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Luc Tuymans | Manifesta 12 | Riga Biennial | Anna Bella Geiger | N. S. Harsha Werner Büttner | Ištvan Išt Huzjan | Nathaniel Rackowe | Darn Thorn | Zoe Preece
13 SEPTEMBER - 28 OCTOBER 2018
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Basir Mahmood: Eyes Recently Seen Letitia Gallery, Beirut 6 September â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 4 November 2018 Basir Mahmood, All divided equally, 2018. Inkjet print on Museo
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INTERSECTION 13JUL. 22SEP
Gabriel Choto Gabrielle Kruger NeoMatloga
Density and Stillness, 2017, Grant Aston â&#x20AC;˘ Photo: Michael Harvey
Haptic Tacit: In Search of the Vernacular 28 July â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 13 October Jane Cairns / David Gates Grant Aston / Henry Pim Kim Norton / Gail Mahon Kimberley Chandler / Mark Cousins In Search of the Vernacular uses the human scale of contemporary craft to provide a fresh perspective on aspects of vernacular architecture. Gallery-based contemporary craft including sculptural ceramics, installation and bespoke furniture.
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NÃ¸tel arebyte Gallery Java House 7 Botanic Square London City Island E14 0LG Canning Town 20 July - 1 September 2018 Tuesday - Saturday 12 - 6 pm
Nick Brown Tom Dunn Mark Dutcher EC Kio Griffith David Hancock David Leapman Chihiro Minato港港 Nobuki Mizumoto港港 Esmeralda Montes James Rielly Chris Sicat Hidekazu Tanaka港港 Norio Taniguchi港港 Yang02 + Kenta Ishige港 Ishige港 Miyuki Yokomizo港港
29 September september - 3 November november 2018
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James Rielly - Some have no home (2016)
KATRIEN DE BLAUWER: RETROSPECTIVE
AWST 3 AUGUST MEDI 29 SEPTEMBER
HYDREF 26 OCTOBER RHAGFYR 9 DECEMBER
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ARCADE CAMPFA 03 / 08 – 01 / 09
Pleased to Meet You
Pauline Gompertz, Stéfan Tulépo, Jean‐François Courtilat, Béatrice Dacher, Michel Gerson, Pauline Gompertz, Stéfan Tulépo Curator : Jean‐François Courtila
& a scene within a scene
05 / 09 – 29 / 09
Paintings from Planet Earth
& Becoming One
Isabella Bilstein and Roz Adams
Wednesday – Saturday Dydd Mercher – Dydd Sadwrn 12.30-17.30 Queens Arcade, Queen Street, Cardiff, CF10 2BY arcadecardiff.co.uk facebook: Arcadecardiff @arcade.campfa
image: Space Ghost, (detail), James Green
New York Patricia Leite 12/09 – 12/10 2018
São Paulo Adriano Costa Lucas Arruda Paulo Nazareth 18/08 – 04/11 2018
Brussels Otobong Nkanga Paloma Bosquê 06/09 – 20/10 2018
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Richie Culver, Lauren DiCioccio & Pedro Matos Stichingthecracks 7 September â&#x20AC;&#x201C; 6 October 2018 533 Old York Road, SW18 1TG, London, UK | +44 (0)20 8870 5225 | www.kristinhjellegjerde.com
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Michael Takeo Magruder, A New Jerusalem, 2014. Installation view from, And I Will Take You to Paradise, Artmusem KUBE, Ã&#x2026;lesund, NO, 2018. (Photograph courtesy of the artist).
Enter Through The Headset 3 6.09 - 30.09 Michael Takeo Magruder, Eran Tsafrir, Mbryonic (Tom Szirtes & Xan Adderley) with Xavier Sole and CiRCA69 (Simon Wilkinson) GAZELLI ART HOUSE 39 DOVER STREET LONDON W1S 4NN +44 207 491 8816 INFO@GAZELLIARTHOUSE.COM GAZELLIARTHOUSE.COM
TrembleTREMBLE Tremble / JONES TREMBLE | JESSE AtTHE theGATES Gates AT 26 October – 26 January 2019 Maja Bajevic Georgia Horgan Navine G. Khan-Dossos Teresa Margolles Olivia Plender Suzanne Treister the Artists Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment alongside Jesse Jones ‘Tremble Tremble’.
Jesse Jones, ‘Tremble Tremble’, 2017, production image, courtesy the Artist
F e at u r i n g w o r k b y Claude
The Enchanted Garden | 23 June – 7 October 2018 | laingartgallery.org.uk Admission charges apply | Curated by the Laing Art Gallery
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Supported by: Claude Monet. Water-Lilies, Setting Sun. © The National Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury, 2006.
Proven Answers Stephen Loughman
Lola GonzĂ lez
20 July - 15 Sept 2018
28 Sept - 17 Nov 2018
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Dublin Art Book Fair Art & Architecture Uncovering 22 - 29 Nov 2018
Out of the Whirlwind’s Radiance
23.08. - 29.09.2018
©Phyllis Galembo, Mami Wata Maquerade, Nigeria, C-Print, 2004, Edition of 5
Private View: 13th September 2018 6.00pm - 8.30pm
50 GOLBORNE ROAD, LONDON, W10 5PR +44 (0) 203 4418980
Willie Cole Fatoumata Diabaté Jakob Dwight Phyllis Galembo Leah Gordon Emo de Medeiros
– The Cover–
Into a light (Mabli), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, oil on stainless steel; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
– Contributors– Agnieszka Gratza's writings about art, performance and film have appeared in contemporary art magazines and newspapers, including artforum.com, frieze, ArtReview and the Financial Times. A lapsed academic, she has also published articles on the subject of Renaissance intellectual and cultural history, while researching and teaching at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Queen Mary, London. Her more creative writing often stems from live art and performance. In the context of various residencies, she has experimented with dream recall and sustained attention exercises, hosted reading-drinking salons, and made edible artworks using saffron. More recently, she has been exploring swimming as a species of meditation and an aesthetic pursuit.
Liese Van Der Watt is a South African art historian and critic based in London, whose writing focuses mostly on contemporary African art. She is a regular contributor to various publications and the author of numerous art catalogues.
Emily Watkins is a London-based writer and curator, whose recent commissions include artist interviews for Apollo, Harper’s Bazaar Art and The Gallery of Everything; catalogue essays for London’s Korean Cultural Centre and Megan Piper Gallery, and various pieces for CCQ Magazine, to which she contributes regularly. She is the commissioning editor and lead writer for Plinth online magazine.
Margaret Carrigan is a writer, editor, and critic who contributes regularly to Artsy, Artnet, The Art Newspaper, Galerie Magazine, Elephant, and the New York Observer. When she's not working from London, she's lives in Brooklyn with her cat, Phoebe, named for Alyssa Milano's character on the early 2,000’s smash hit CW series, Charmed.
Sam Perry is an independent curator and writer based in Cardiff, Wales. In recent years, he has been developing written and performancebased works, working with a wide community of emerging artists and collectives. Sam graduated in photography from the University of Plymouth, in 2006, and from CuratorLab, Konstfack, Stockholm, in 2015.
Charlotte Wilcock is a fashion stylist and creative director. Identity theory and personal narratives are intrinsic to her practice, informing work that examines concepts of ‘the self’, and the human condition. Emily Hartless investigates how stuff works through research, writing and curation, combining inter-disciplinary sources to create webs of knowledge. She has a BA in History of Art (Courtauld Institute of Art, 1st) and will attend an MA course in History of Design at the V&A and RCA in September 2018. firstname.lastname@example.org
Nia Davies is a poet and editor of Poetry Wales. She has co-curated and participated in several transcultural collaborations, projects and events, and her work has been widely translated. Her most recent publications are All fours (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), England (Crater, 2017), Interversions with Mamta Sagar (Poetrywala, 2018) and Key Blank (Literary Pocket Book, 2018). She is undertaking practice-based research into poetry and ritual at Salford University. niadavieslit.com
Kirsty Lang has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4's flagship arts programme, Front Row, for over a decade. Before that, she was a foreign correspondent and a TV news broadcaster for over 25 years, covering death and destruction. Kirsty likes nothing better than combining her two passions in life, which are travel and art and, to that end, she is a Trustee of the British Council, which promotes British culture and arts overseas. She recently became chair of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and is enjoying spending time in the North East. Joeleen Lynch is an arts management professional, currently working with Business to Arts – a charitable organisation that brokers and supports creative partnerships between businesses, individuals and the arts. With multi-disciplinary experience in cultural programming, she has represented organisations including: The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, the Contemporary Art Programme for National Trust and Year of Irish Design 2015. Her curatorial practice aims to create meaningful points of engagement with contemporary art, historical and environmentally significant sites, while thinking of sustainability for our future world. email@example.com businesstoarts.ie
– The Editors– It’s not what you do... There is potentially a lot not to like about biennials. From the point of view of the local population, a biennial is another opportunity for the Great and the Good to demonstrate their superiority over the poor and the ignorant (the local population do not get to go to the fancy parties); and, all the while, they are forced to suffer the spectacularly patronising outreach strategy the organisers have tacked onto the back of their artistic program. Often things aren’t great for the indigenous art community either, as they are by-passed in favour of ‘proper’ artists who are parachuted in for the occasion. As for the international artists who have been dropped in, they are rarely paid adequately, (for the making of art is not ‘real work’); nor are they given sufficient time to develop and install their projects. Instead they are cast as TV magicians, there only to pull something clever out of a hat at the required moment. I would argue, however, that having a cultural knees-up every couple of years, in itself, is a great idea; it’s how it’s done that is key. I recommend the biennial naysayers take a trip to to see RIBOCA, the first Riga Biennial. The team behind it have quietly been giving the world a step-by-step lesson in how to commission and execute a biennial successfully. All of the one hundred and something artists involved have been paid appropriately; the education program was in place and active from the start; the curation is coherent without being restrictive or didactic; the region’s indigenous artists are being engaged (70 per cent of those involved are from the Baltic region). And finally, the work, its installation and its integration with many of the highly esoteric postSoviet structures in which it is housed, is of a consistently high quality. The complicated story Latvia has in relation to its Soviet past and the implications today that story has on the languages that are spoken there, the people’s sense of national identity and the country’s politics, have meant that none of these listed achievements were a given. A biennial is by nature a finite project; it can be critiqued and audited when it is done (unlike a permanent cultural institution). it is therefore adaptable and it suits a world in which adaptability is increasingly the one essential attribute for any cultural venture. Ric Bower
Editors: Emma Geliot and Ric Bower Deputy Editor, Design & Sales: Rhiannon Lowe Editorial Assistance: Filiz Mehmedova, Emily Hartless, Adam Robinson, Stanley Bellwood, Ruby Graham Distribution Assistance: Richard Higlett, Joeleen Lynch, Uliana Apatina Office dog: Nox
Bumper For those of us of a certain age, the summer holidays of childhood came with a flurry of bumper editions of our favourite comics. Long before children had anything but their own resources and interminable games of I-Spy to dull the boredom of the long drive with fractious family to some windswept holiday destination, these hefty reads were a godsend to exasperated parents. Well, consider this extended issue your bumper holiday read. There are no word searches, no join-the-dots, nor ‘spot the difference’ pages, but you can certainly raise the caliber of your beach reading by getting to grips with what’s in our beautiful pages. And while you won’t be spotting differences, you’ll start to spot thematic threads running throughout, to join the dots between ideas and you may even find words of truth in our vodka-fuelled symposium experiment. A whiff of sweat on a vinyl seat, mixed with the over-sugary scent of boiled sweets and a hint of vomit is enough to take me back to a hot car in the 1970s, fighting with my sister over a comic and a millimeter of buttock space. Sissel Tolaas has been gathering aromas and recreating them in her laboratory/studio, to evoke powerful memories of place. And it’s the forgotten or overlooked places, the blah architecture that anonymously fills the city, which interests Nathanial Rackowe. When we’re not ignoring the local vernacular, we’re blocking out the reality of where our clothes come from, as fashion designer-with-a-difference, Osman Yousefzada, reminds us. In fact there are some really meaty themes to tackle in this issue: the future for artists, truth, versions of truth, an imagined nuclear catastrophe, reproductive rights, re-written histories, the thrills and challenges of gay cruising and, as usual, insights into the creative process. Once again, we’ve trotted the globe in search of ideas, so you can be transported to Beirut, or Brussels, or Cardiff, or Copenhagen, or Limerick, or Llandudno, or Mexico City, or Riga, or Swansea, while licking a lolly in a less exotic location. Happy holidays. Emma Geliot
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UNITe UNITe UNITe 2018
Edita Atmaja, Clare Charles, James Cocks, Lauren Heckler, Helen Malia, Lydia Meehan, Dai Howell & Kate Mercer, Florence Moon, Hannah Morris, Dan Pritchard, Claire Prosser, Aled Simons, Laura Welsman, Ellie Young. 30/06/18—22/09/18
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倀氀愀礀 䤀琀 䄀最愀椀渀㨀 吀栀攀 愀爀琀 漀昀 爀攀洀愀欀椀渀最 ㌀ 䨀甀渀攀 ጠ 㤀 匀攀瀀琀攀洀戀攀爀 ㈀ 㠀
䔀瘀攀爀礀 搀愀礀Ⰰ 愀洀 ጠ 㔀瀀洀 䘀爀攀攀 愀搀洀椀猀猀椀漀渀 䘀椀爀猀琀猀椀琀攀Ⰰ 䰀攀眀椀猀 䜀愀爀搀攀渀猀 䠀椀最栀 匀琀爀攀攀琀Ⰰ 䌀漀氀挀栀攀猀琀攀爀 䔀猀猀攀砀 䌀伀 䨀䠀 眀眀眀⸀ǻ爀猀琀猀椀琀攀⸀甀欀
䤀洀愀最攀㨀 䠀攀琀愀椀渀 倀愀琀攀氀Ⰰ 䘀椀攀猀琀愀 吀爀愀渀猀昀漀爀洀攀爀Ⰰ ㈀ ㌀⸀ 倀栀漀琀漀 䐀漀甀最氀愀猀 䄀琀ǻ攀氀搀
FINAL WEEKS Closes 23 September Free admission npg.org.uk/bp
Laura (detail) by Shawn McGovern, 2018 Â© Shawn McGovern
#BPPortrait Leicester Square
—Inside— My Charming Unpretentiousness: p36 Werner Büttner’s caustic figurative paintings are suffused with humour, behind which lies a deeply considered seriousness Thank you all for your work: p42 Ištvan Išt Huzjan, performs gratitude as his exhibition De Métrico a Imperial opens at Proyectos Monclova, in Mexico City. Companion Planting: p50 Ten artists, writers and academics attempt to future proof the art world in a conversation at Salmon Creek Farm, in northern California. Nightclubbing (We’re Nightclubbing): p52 Casper White used his 2017 BP Portrait Travel Award to go clubbing in mainland Europe so that he could draw, photograph and paint clubbers being in the moment. Hope and Light Comforted My Heart: p60 Yahon Chang uses traditional Chinese ink painting techniques in a less than traditional manner. He talks about his physical and emotional commitment to a gruelling practice at Manifesta 12. No Hierarchy Here: p68 Director of Art Brussels, Anne Vierstraete, explains how the Belgian capital is succeeding in integrating commercial galleries and collectors with artist-run spaces and institutions. In Vodka Veritas: p72 Reviving the original idea of the symposium, CCQ poured vodka into a group of artists taking part in the first Riga Biennial (RIBOCA), to see what truths might emerge. The Future in Their Eyes: p86 Darn Thorn's sequence of large-scale photomurals connects the architectural legacy of 1960s’ Ireland with the modernisation of the Catholic Church, to portray an idealised version of a future Irish society.
Sanguine, but not Complacent: p124 Luc Tuymans’, Sanguine/ Bloedrood for Antwerp’s Museum of Contemporary Art, combines historical, modern and contemporary work in an exhibition exploring the darker side of the Baroque. I Abandoned the Things the I Loved Most: p132 Brazilian artist Anna Bella Geiger describes how living through challenging times caused radical shifts in her creative practice. The Passenger: p140 Sam Keogh talks about improvisation and rehearsal vs performance, making connections between David Bowie, Donald Trump, Steely Dan, Oscar the Grouch and The Old Croghan Man as he goes. An Archive of Longing: p148 Ceramicist Zoe Preece describes her early encounters with clay, her technical expertise and the roots of her fascination with the lacunae that puncture our daily lives. Institution of the Leviathan: p156 Shezad Dawood’s epic, Leviathan, explores the connection between human and marine life, in a three-year, multi-faceted project. REPEAL! p164 The Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment were curated into the recent EVA International, held in Limerick, Ireland. Campaign artists Sarah Cullen and Rachel Fallon explain how their project took them out onto the streets, a month before Ireland voted in their historic referendum. And You Thought I Was Bad? p170 Combining comedy and tragedy, Guy Oliver’s work draws together many concerns. He talks to Emily Watkins about digital media; sincerity amidst the layering of online language, and contemporary masculinity. SNIFF: p178 Kirsty Lang meets Norwegian artist Sissel Tolaas for a fragrance-infused conversation about the power of smell to evoke memory and place.
Incidental City: p94 Nathanial Rackowe’s sculptural works respond to the layers of the city, using a material vernacular more usually associated with the brutal architecture of unloved urban spaces.
In Love p180 Artist KHISHVI collages drawings and photos from her installation piece, curated by James Richards, as part of A Slight Ache, at Chapter, Cardiff, in a special commission for CCQ.
Haptic/Tacit: p102 Kim Norton and Gail Mahon reveal the development process for an exhibition that looks at our relationship to space and place.
In the Changing Room: p188 Osman Yousefzada describes the complex connection between his Pashtun migrant upbringing, and a practice that goes beyond fashion design.
On the cutting floor: p110 In Kommunal Dubplate Service, Danish artist, Hari Shankar Kishore’s artwork, designs, performance imagery, ephemera and recordings were brought together for Copenhagen Art Week.
EXCESS: p192 Dancer Gareth Chambers offers an intimate and brutally honest glimpse into the world of gay cruising.
Lanuggae: p116 Poet Nia Davies responds to N.S. Harsha’s aesthetically beautiful sculptural installations and drawings, which draw audiences in to darker themes in the Indian artist’s solo show in Swansea.
Crudely Plucking the Strings: p198 Chris Alton's Billboard Commission re-imagines the 1607 flood of the Bristol Channel, using more contemporary imagery for a modern day nuclear catastrophe.
My Charming Unpretentiousness Werner Büttner’s London exhibition, Plenty of Room for all Sorts of Happiness, brings together the German artist’s iconically caustic figurative paintings from the 1980s, together with a host of new works, proving he hasn’t lost his wry bite. Margaret Carrigan talked to him about the weight of history, philosophy, and how humour shouldn’t be taken lightly. Margaret Carrigan: If there's one thing that's constantly brought up, when it comes to your work, it's your sense of dark humour. Do you consider yourself a funny guy?
etching of my hometown, Jena, I added another term in the title, On thrownness and entanglement. You’re not only thrown into this world without being asked, you’re immediately entangled in a lot of calamities: in a landscape and a language; in a climate and a social order; in a political and an economical system, and, most disturbingly, in a family. All this slightly limits your freedom to design your own fate.
Werner Büttner: Not at all. But humour is the only appropriate reaction I have found, facing what’s now 64 years of the condition humaine. MC: Even if you don't, your work is pithily comical and seemingly intentionally so. What's the importance of humour in art for you? Are there any other artists you consider funny? Do you think most art (or artists, depending on where you want to locate the agency) takes itself too seriously?
MC: Do you feel you’ve found some freedom in your work? Do you spend a lot of time in the studio these days?
WB: As I said, humour is a proper answer to the given. Rabelais, Swift, Ensor, are they funny? No way. They laughed in public and did the opposite at home. Seriousness? It’s for lazy, careerist aye-sayers. The cowardly avoid looking too close.
MC: Sounds like a dream job. But you originally studied law, correct? What made you dispense with that profession and become an artist?
WB: There’s no daily schedule. If an image or idea fascinates me, I keep on rockin’.
WB: Sorry, I don’t have many memories of the person I used to be at this time. I had just done some texts in which I tried to understand myself and the world. It seems that, one day, I said: ‘Why not painting? Give it a try!
MC: Speaking of seriousness, in the Plenty of Room for All Sorts of Happiness catalogue, you reference Heidegger's theory of beingtoward-death. Heidegger suggests that, as soon as one is in existence, one is able not to be in existence at any given time, which upends any logical, linear understanding of time, since one's conditional existence and one's unconditional demise are essentially bound together from the start. This kind of understanding of life, to my mind, explains a lot about your work to me – its cheek, its surrealism, its simplistic forms and pithy titles, its vacillation between quotidian and philosophical. But, you seem to take issue with Heidegger's theory, or at least find it limited. Why? And why reference Heidegger at all? His work isn't generally seen as too conducive of a thorough understanding of art anyway.
MC: I try to forget who I was, when I was doing my law school preparation exams as well. When you say ‘texts’, do you mean writings you penned about, or relating to, art, or do you mean you were chronicling broader, more existential musings in your journal at night? WB: The writings I did were just experiments to get familiar with the cheap and omnipresent material of language. MC: That sounds like it might be writing about – or maybe even as art – but I have a feeling it was more existential for you. It was around then, in the late 1970s, that you linked up with Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen. You became the ringleaders of the Junge Wilde movement, which was all about renouncing conceptual and minimal art. How did you get in with this new crew? I heard once you met the latter as the result of a one-night stand...
WB: Heidegger is not important to me. I just appreciated the term ‘thrownness’ – that we are thrown into existence, without being asked, and that our answer should be to design our life and fate in freedom. So, in this self-portrait as a two-year old riding a pony, in front of an old
WB: Let’s just say that the ‘crew’ I joined in those days was spending big parts of their lifetime in pubs. Since I did the same, it was inevitable we would meet.
WB: From the beginning, I’ve offered help to the audience. I did not publish ordinary exhibition catalogues, but publications with a lot more information in images and text; guides to the strange terrain of my portraying earthly phenomena. Nevertheless, I was named an 'anarchist', 'communist', 'male chauvinist pig', 'cynic', etc. I had to admit to myself that, after I’ve signed a picture, I’m helpless. I have no control regarding the interpretation orgies that might occur. It is wise to be disinterested, to avoid applause and its counterpart. But, to answer your original question, of course, I have a ‘Germanness’ to me – I’m a German artist. I was conditioned in this divided, Cold War place, with its Nazi past. That’s also something I have no control over.
MC: Along with Oehlen et al., you were part of a huge movement in the 1980s, which advocated for a return to figuration. What prompted that for you personally? WB: After World War II, there was suddenly and understandably a new commandment: ‘Art is art and everything else is everything else.’ A farewell to the given and a new artistic regime of worldlessness. With the new figuration, the world came back a bit, and I said, 'aye'.
MC: Let’s hear about that. You did an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, in which you talk a bit about your childhood, and you say your mom kidnapped you and took you to West Germany. Why do you say ‘kidnapped’? Honestly, it seems as if you were a tad critical of your mom (unless I misread the tone) for doing that. What would you say is your relationship with your mom?
MC: Well, a whole new generation seems to be saying, ‘aye’ to figurative work, but I can’t tell if it’s anti-conceptual, as yours was. One only has to show up at whatever art fair is happening, somewhere in the world, to see bold, bright, bombastic canvases, filled with human and animal forms. Some attribute this trend to the rise of the internet/digital era, and our own dislocation from, and subsequent desire to return to, our bodies and the material world. Do you see your work as a predecessor to this current trend in any way?
WB: Sure I loved my mom. A child has no other option than to love his parents. Later I stopped doing this. I sometimes use a rude and harsh language to underline my skepticism regarding human customs. And don’t forget that artists use legends to become a legend.
WB: Most of it represents little of what little I know. By ‘it’, I mean the deeds of my younger colleagues. I think if I said more I would shatter my charming unpretentiousness.
MC: What's the most disturbing aspect of family, that they have the most power to influence you?
MC: I’d hate you to do that, so I guess we can leave off with that there and let history draw its own conclusions. Speaking of history, after your work hit the international spotlight, in the 1980s and ’90s, it seems like you went back to showing in and around Germany, more so than anywhere else. That is until your big ICA show in 2015, and now, of course, a few more shows in London and New York, with Marlborough, since then. I’m wondering what prompted your localism in the early noughties, and whether that was a conscious decision or circumstantial? I do think your work does have a distinct German-ness and specific historical weight behind it, and would be interested in whether or not that factors into its reception at various times.
WB: The problem is that you are forced to love and celebrate every family member. To submit to the hierarchy, the areas of which you dare not speak, the banality of repeated family legends, it is the most important school of hypocrisy you have to attend. The family regime forgives no ‘No’. MC: What do you still want to do in your rather legendary career, then? WB: Make some strong pictures and fade away ironically.
Werner Büttner, Plenty of Room for All Sorts of Happiness, was at Marlborough London 25 May – 23 June 2018
WB: Most of the shows I did, or participated in anywhere, happened to be circumstantial; and little do I know about my own reception. I know about sales and misfitting articles. That’s all.
MC: Do you have an example or two of a ‘misfitting article’? Is there something in particular that is often, or routinely misunderstood about your work, or you?
first spread: Viel Raum fuer allerlei Glueck (Plenty of Room for all sorts of Happiness), Werner Büttner, 2017; courtesy Marlborough Fine Art second spread: Diet – Geißel der Postmoderne (Diets – Scourge of Postmodernity), Werner Büttner, 2017; courtesy Marlborough Fine Art current spread, left page: Wurzelwillige (Beings Seeking to Root), Werner Büttner, 2017; courtesy Marlborough Fine Art current spread, right page: Ein geschundener Gaul (A Flogged Horse), Werner Büttner, 2016; courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Thank you all for your work Just before the opening of his first one-man presentation in Mexico City, Ištvan Išt Huzjan, in a performance commissioned by CCQ, in partnership with Proyectos Monclova, shook hands with gallery employees and associated independent workers. The Slovenian artist expressed his heartfelt gratitude to each of them for their invaluable contributions to the preparation of his exhibition De Métrico a Imperial. Photography, Jake Lindeman
E.C. thank you for your papers.
T.J. thank you for your thoughts.
P.S. thank you for your courage...
...and T.C. thank you for your gifts.
S.C. thank you for your warmth...
...and K.C. thank you for your words.
E. P. thank you for your smile...
...and A. E. thank you for your strength.
Ištvan Išt Huzjan’s alchemic performances and structures take, as their starting point, objects and actions that are immediately familiar to us; then, through certain mysterious processes, he transforms them into taught visual statements, opulent Art Povera and meditations on 21st century existence. Born in 1981, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Huzjan graduated in 2005 he now lives between Brussels, Belgium and Ljubljana, Slovenia. all spreads: Thank you all for your work, Ištvan Išt Huzjan, performance; De Métrico a Imperial; Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City, Mexico, 2018; photography, Jake Lindeman
Companion Planting Bring together ten artists, writers and academics and ask them to futureproof the art world and the ideas will be as numerous as the participants. Agnieszka Gratza presented one of the modules/ conversations at Salmon Creek Farm, in northern California. Conceived by James Voorhies from the Bureau for Open Culture, Companion Planting: A Manual for the Ecology of New Art brought together artists, writers and academics. As a participant in this think tank of sorts, Agnieszka Gratza was asked to present one of six modules – Artists, Audience, Education, Economics, Institutions, Publicity – and to consider what is needed to sustain a healthy contemporary art scene, from a perspective 30 years into the future. The roundtable discussion was part of a three-day event held, in June, at artist Fritz Haeg’s Salmon Creek Farm in northern California.
Nate Padavick: To me it sounds as though the artist figure, or the art teacher, becomes embedded in everything else, in all the other facets of higher education. It all becomes a little more porous. JV: So maybe we jump forward to 2048, and the artist has ceased to exist, but something called a very creative, networked individual exists, who might be a designer, who also steps into an art school to teach one class, and is also working in some kind of urban planning context. Kim Nguyen: But who could, with quality, effort and care, contribute to that many disciplines?
James Voorhies: Maybe we could start off with our ownership of various themes and how they connect to others. Does an institution of the future begin to operate a little like a gallery, committed to a specific number of artists? Of course, that would mean fewer artists or creative producers are supported by that one institution, but that it is also supporting them more sustainably. That’s one provocation but also a potential question for thirty years down the road.
JV: For people who teach in design, education isn’t the number one thing. Designers, this is a generalisation, but they expect to be paid. SJ: I guess some designers get signature status, but a lot of design jobs are for hire as opposed to for signature.
Frances Richard: Similarly, at the faculty level, fewer people getting more real support is something that’s ethically complicated but worth thinking about. If you invest more in your faculty, you invest in fewer people. That’s always an argument against unionisation. The institution says, ‘You know, if you ask for better conditions, fewer people will get them’.
NP: There’s a natural ecosystem for that. The designers go to school and they get hired by the job market, but the ecosystem isn’t as clearcut for art. The institutions aren’t responding to the ecosystem, which is telling them we’re saturated; they’re just floating [in] the market and creating this...
JV: ...well, a bubble of some sort. Fritz Haeg: I have an easy time romanticising the past, the ’60s, the ’70s in particular. The young artists before the ’80s, let’s say, were part of the counter-culture in the West, both outside and inside of culture. The post-’80s influx of money, publicity, glamour, parties, or whatever, it’s just changed the dynamic so much, and I wonder where this is headed? I see a profoundly different culture around art making and the role of the artist today, versus what I perceive it to be before the money came in. KN: The question is, when is, ‘before the money came in’? Consider the Medicis; it’s always been part of it to some extent. Shannon Jackson: I was thinking that too, throughout the weekend. There were all these moments of realisation – ‘Oh, this place is here in part because of the history of logging and, yes, the back-to-land people had trust funds', or 'there are Amazon boxes coming here’ – at odds with the presumed purity of dropping out. Brian Conley: One thought is about embracing corruption, not as some kind of foreign being one has to go to battle with, but as a kind of necessary component of the imperfection of life itself. And then the other is that, even if you have these corrupt forces, or institutions that are part of the art world, there are things like what Fritz is doing, people who are attempting to provide another platform, and gatherings like this that try to create new forms of art and relationships with institutions. Even if there are no solutions that come out of this, or out of Fritz’s project. Fine. But the very attempt is symbolically important. FH: I’m not looking for purity, but my heart does get racing with the idea of thinking of new possibilities. Michele Carlson: There’s a whole network of acceptance of abuse and scarcity, which seems bigger than the educational space. Artists who are graduating, they’re thinking, ‘I’m going to go out by myself and maybe make art in the corner of my closet’. They’re not thinking of themselves as networks. There’s this really important collectivity;
multiplicitous and porous and dynamic. I think those collective spaces often create the very forces they might be working against. Ryan Peter: I don’t feel we’ve talked about real estate much. How does that affect the artist? I’ve already complained to a number of people about getting displaced out of my studio by a tech company going around a neighbourhood and buying up a number of buildings. Maybe an artist [of the future] is no longer somebody who occupies space. SJ: What if artist training included some things in the future, like basic real estate management... KN: Oh God! SJ: ...or, I don’t know, how to talk to an urban planner, or some things that are about crosssector work, or something, because you’re going to be vulnerable as artists or potential collaborators. RP: I’ve also been thinking about these 13-year-old kids building cabins [at Salmon Creek Farm] and maybe we’ve got to start going backwards. Maybe we need to become more holistic – what Nate was talking about – something that’s no longer a definite role but takes place within a number of disciplines in the university model. Calvin Rocchio: I wanted to bring up the idea of ‘companion planting’ again, to break down this illusion of the closed walls of the art world. We keep talking about the art world as if it’s autonomous; I’m excited thinking about artists as service providers, ‘companion planting’ with other fields of research. The notion of ‘a corner of the closet’ is extremely antiquated, because it treats the field itself as this romantic space. SJ: If that’s ‘companion planting’, or whatever it is, there’s a bit of tension always between creating an environment for specialised artists within music, art practice, film, theatre, etc., while, at the same time, trying to get this out in every single field for everybody. Careful what you wish for. I don’t know how to talk about the future, but I’m probably going to try and think of how to make the best use of planting companionship.
James Voorhies firstname.lastname@example.org Fritz Haeg email@example.com Nate Padavick firstname.lastname@example.org Agnieszka Gratza email@example.com Ryan Peter firstname.lastname@example.org Brian Conley email@example.com Frances Richard firstname.lastname@example.org Michele Carlson email@example.com Calvin Rocchio firstname.lastname@example.org Michael Korcuska email@example.com Kim Nguyen firstname.lastname@example.org Shannon Jackson email@example.com salmoncreekfarm.org bureauforopenculture.org/projects/companion-planting
Nightclubbing (We’re Nightclubbing) Casper White’s proposal for his 2017 BP Portrait Travel Award was to go clubbing in mainland Europe, and photograph, paint and draw people being in the moment. But the project only began to resolve itself when he returned to Wales. Rhiannon Lowe spoke to him, just after his show opened at National Portrait Gallery. I’ve met up with Casper White in his Cardiff studio. The 13 paintings for his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) have left the building, and we’re looking through the source material from his travel award project, and the works that didn’t make the final cut. The official description of his project says: “The BP Travel Award 2017 was won by Casper White, for his proposal to create works about music fans in clubs and concert venues in Berlin and Mallorca, representing an often youth-related subculture that is not traditionally recorded in portrait paintings”. Given that research projects evolve quite quickly, is that description still valid?
Anyway, the morning after clubbing in Berlin, in our dormitory cell beds, I took loads more photos, and I was doing sketches; they weren’t great, but the sensation was there. This one of Hannah, and this of Lara, the one with the bottle and the phone, I mean, that happens, that’s true... that there’s another bed, just next to Lara's; someone hidden in it. They’re so true of the time; they were so hungover, out of it. I was doing little drawings, and I was excited, thinking this was it. But it wasn’t; it was vital though, part of it. I mean, look at Lara’s pose, there in that photo, lying in the park the day afterwards, arms out, on her back. There were moments I caught, luck really; some of them work.
Casper White: The project is around music, about the things that happen in the spaces where there’s music – clubs, gigs, record shops – that was the initial impetus. The feelings that exist in a night club, or a rock club are pretty timeless, in that they could’ve existed in the ’50s, ’40s, ’20s, and before that. I was looking at art collections, when I was in Germany, and they have pub scenes from the 1900s, and there are people with masks on, and there’s... frivolity. The artists aren’t painting them to say, ‘we’ve got bars’, but because ‘this is what’s happening’. And that’s where things happen; it’s where people meet – lovers, partners... prostitutes; it’s where people get together, split up; it’s where real moments happen. Later, the work became about these minor sensations, minor moments. When you look back at 19th century painters – say Toulouse-Lautrec, not that I’m a fan necessarily – they didn’t really have the weight of ‘Fine Art’ on their shoulders. They were picture-makers, and I’m interested in the language of portraiture and picture making. If I have confetti on the floor in front of the work, that comes out of a knowledge of portrait painting, not installation art.
RL: That other one’s great, just asleep on his face... What happened when you got home? CW: I got George and Mabli to come over to mine in the morning, with hangovers, after going clubbing in Cardiff. I’d realised they could inhabit that moment, that space, wherever it was. I didn’t need to be painting in a club to convey the things I wanted to. I could walk away from the club, try and deconstruct what I was looking for, all the sensations I was trying to convey, portray, and reconstruct them in the studio. I would go to the corners of clubs and pick up old left behind things – bits of clothing, paper, confetti. I tried to keep everything from when I went to Berlin and Majorca, all the tickets, papers I found. These drawings are ones by other people; when I was drawing in one of the bars, others joined in as well. I’m going to keep them, maybe use them as ground for other works in the future. Anyway, I tried to be a voyeur, tried being a documentary maker, I tried being in it and dancing; but actually, to convey the kind of things I was thinking about, I had to take a step away, and abstract it. Not blurring, or making it harder to see, I mean thinking about it as an idea, and then change that idea. I wanted to make it unreal as well, make it a cleaner version of the club; I mean more... precise.
Rhiannon Lowe: Tell me about when you went clubbing. CW: I went to Leipzig and Berlin with my girlfriend and some mates, started drawing in the bars and nightclubs. But it wasn’t enough; you’re only catching so much. I took these photos in Berlin – see those two going at it in one of the bars? – people dancing, watching bands. Not sure if anyone was aware. But I felt like a voyeur. I mean, these spaces, being in them, it’s pretty fucking intense, it can be; you go clubbing, it’s safe, but full-on, but it just didn’t come across that way. We tried the same in Palma as well, and in Magaluf.
RL: So you posed sitters in the front room downstairs, at home? CW: Or in the studio, or the kitchen. For Gareth [dancer Gareth Chambers]’s sitting, I put lights, a massive stereo on full, and turned the heating up. And he was great. He danced for an hour, in the studio. We tried lots of different lights, angles. Here are his photographs. He had a jumper on at first. I’ve made these photos much lighter, so I can use them, but the original ones were very dark, beautiful. Some of the shapes, there’s a religious quality to them. I was trying to recreate the club in another place. It wasn’t necessarily what I really wanted, but some of these came out really lovely, simple. And then I worked from the photos.
RL: You did some beforehand in Cardiff as well, watching Boy Harsher? CW: I needed to try this, go there, go clubbing; but actually, a writer doesn’t write a book about clubbing by just going to a club; you go home and reconsider it. At the same time, I’m reading books about clubbing, and they offer a certain feel; I think maybe film can convey clubbing more; but then, if you want that clubbing feeling for real, just go clubbing? Yeah, these were quite intense environments, and they come across as... polite, in the photos I took. I decided all I can do is try and distil something, and then it becomes something else. I’m trying to look at clubbing through the history of portraiture.
RL: Why confetti? CW: It’s not real confetti, it’s made from the gels you use to change lighting. I was using them for when I had people back in the studio dancing, to photograph them, and I was thinking about making fictitious
situations to articulate real situations. So, for me, it was creating this sleight of hand. Also, confetti, when it’s dropped on the floor, it talks of randomness, of rhythm, not painting. RL: So it’s not about occasion? CW: It’s definitely about occasion. But also the confetti catches the light, it changes it, and it’s got rhythm; it’s about this kind of wavering, pulsing, or change in surface. And hopefully, it relates to questions I’m asking in some of the paintings. In that painting of Emma, some of the diamond shapes – which are the same size as the cut confetti on the floor, same
colour range – they disappear/reappear; and then you have these lines, from the stripes on her clothing; the stripes are important, only one sitter hasn’t got them, because he took his top off. I asked for stripes, because the movement in them created an interest. In some of the work, the stripes may be more interesting than the faces. RL: Because of the shift in surface? CW: I think so. These ones, they’re on a metallic surface that reflects light. While I was in Berlin, I was looking at gesture, mark-making of classical works – masters,
like bloody Rembrandt – and seeing that they were painting with a kind of quivering mark, and that they were working by the light of a candle. If you look at a Rembrandt by candlelight, it looks like a person; it looks different in contemporary lighting. My work is going to be seen with bright gallery lighting; I’d like to try to portray what a contemporary light source is like – and contemporary music – through the paint. I was also looking at Sickert a lot, while doing this project, not to paint like him, but his way of using gestures and marks to convey something that didn’t necessarily show the person. There are his famous Camden murderer paintings,
and those figures are kind of shadowy – suggestions of people, of faces – he was going for that. And he’d use a grid, and that grid would sometimes become part of the work. So, you have this beat or rhythm, that is the diamonds, then you have these gestural marks that are kind of translucent; they suggest form. Mabli’s figure, as a whole thing, comes together because of the lines and the gesture; it’s not because I’ve portrayed a really good figure. And it’s the same as sound, and dance; you can talk about music or clubbing in the same way. Those sensations, those fleeting moments, where things come into focus, go out of focus. The painting of Dan there looks like it could break down to nothing. There’s maybe about a thimbleful of paint on the whole work.
and smearing. When I’m looking at the painting of Dan, I’m thinking more of lip gloss than I am oil paint. There’s that cliché of lipstick on a mirror; it’s not that, but it’s an awareness of cosmetics, or beautifying, of contemporary light sources, rhythms, colours. RL: The way makeup can skid across a surface in a very similar way.
RL: You used metal because it’s easy to remove as well as lay on paint?
CW: Definitely. These occasions, what I’m painting, they’re things that could happen in dark clubs, night-time, but these are actually really light paintings. None of them rely on a black; the contrast is not turned down. And even the darkest mark on each is cut through with the reflective zinc or steel surface below. The ones that are the most successful are, in fact, the lightest, like the two with the diamonds on. They’re the ones that articulate my idea; are they particularly good portraits? Maybe not.
CW: Painting on metal is half removal with every brush stroke you make. It’s pushing,
RL: The diamond confetti shapes, they were on a piece of fabric you used at g39 in Cardiff,
and you used the fabric with paintings, hung it under and over the top of works. CW: Have you seen Freaks and Geeks, the TV show? It’s awful, I love it. At the start, the characters are posed in front of a backdrop that you can see the edges of and behind it; and the actors are just... there, lame, awkward, playing themselves, playing themselves, in front of the drop. The drop, it becomes more important than the sitter. So, I made these backdrops, and I’d call them people’s names, introduce them, like, ‘This is “Josh”’, and I’d put the backdrop on the wall as if it were a portrait. That person, who it was named after, maybe never saw it, wore it, or stood in front of it, but the material becomes this thing that could then have something happen in front of it. So, I used it as a kind of distancing tool, a shorthand to question – like a photographer knows how to use depth of field, or Vaseline. I’m really into this, but no one else might be. I mean, a lot of fine artists, who take themselves very seriously, their
work at the Portrait Gallery is just a backdrop for people to take selfies in front of, you know. I love that, and that I can talk about my work, and take it apart, but in the end, it’s a piece of painted metal, on a wall, and people take their photos in front of it, it’s just selfie-fodder.
club scene. I think what Gareth is trying to convey, is something that maybe a lot of people aren’t even aware happens; you know – taking poppers, dancing really close to other sweaty people, specifically attractive dudes, and whatever; he’s done that, he’s in that. I am not saying my work is an experience of a gay club, even though I have painted people who are gay and who I’ve drawn and studied going clubbing; but just that it’s interesting. What I hope I am making are these beautiful moments, which can take place in dark, sweaty, questionable, even seedy places, sometimes sober, sometimes intoxicated. These places are where the real world is happening, in pubs and clubs, despite Tinder and Grindr and all that.
RL: You had some earlier works with sitters wearing the same print. CW: I had the sitters in stress positions, and worked from images, appearing in the media at the time, of the detainees in Abu Graib, dressed in sheets. I was using the imagery questioningly within art, without it being, ‘I’m painting figures from Abu Graib’, more like, ‘I am interested in contemporary events and society’. I mean, George, Dan, Mabli, they appear gender-neutral in ways, gender-questioning; in the same way there was all this imagery and information coming out of Abu Graib then, gender is the language that surrounds us today, and I want to make reference to that; it’s important to me; it’s not in your face and I’m not going to preach about it, it’s just happening. I’m just asking questions about faces, portraiture in these situations.
RL: Also, last night, the audience and venue, it created a particular vibe. CW: Yeah, I think if it had been somewhere else other than Chapter, and maybe there had been a different set of people there, it might have been a proper dance party. If it had been in the museum, however, it would have been observational. It sort of split between the two. You know when Gareth was walking through the groups of people who were more observers, like you, that’s actually what it’s like in a club, those fleeting moments, catching the eye of someone, or not, or if you see someone in the middle of what could be a good time, or a bad time – that, for me, is very interesting. I mean, the paintings I did, the ones of Mabli, Emma, Dan, they couldn’t necessarily have been part of Gareth’s
RL: You mentioned one of your sitters, Gareth [Chambers, featured elsewhere in this issue]. I was thinking about EXCESS, his event last night, and his wider practice in relation to what you’re doing. CW: Gareth’s performance openly talks about experiences within a gay
first spread: Into a light (Mabli), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, oil on stainless steel; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
third spread, left hand page, left to right: Next day 5 (Emma), Mallorca, Casper White, 2018, pencil and watercolour on found book cover; photo: Casper White; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
third spread, right hand page, left to right: This is now (Dan), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, oil on zinc; photo: Casper White; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
second spread: Next day 2 (Mabli), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, silverpoint and pencil on found record sleeve; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
Next day 3 (Emma), Mallorca, Casper White, 2018, pencil and watercolour on found neon paper; photo: Casper White; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
Have to warm up to the feel of it (Mabli and George), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, oil on canvas; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
Next day 4 (George), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, pencil and watercolour on found book cover; photo: Casper White; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
current spread: Tomorrow and all the time (Mabli) Casper White, 2018, oil on zinc; courtesy the artist
It just feels gross, Berlin, Casper White, 2018, oil on zinc; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London Next day 1 (Owain), Berlin, Casper White, 2018, pencil and watercolour on found paper; photo: Prudence Cuming; courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, London
show, but they spoke of those moments. There was that point when two of the dancers were dancing against the wall, leaning with their hands up, backs towards us, I thought, this is it, I could watch a video of this, it would have been good video art. It speaks of outer body, ecstasy, 'what the fuck are we doing?' Why are there these places, these places where outof-hours things take place, and how vital are they? They just are vital. It’s interesting – these spaces are really inclusive, but also super uninclusive. And, that’s why I wanted to try and paint in them. Museums of art, they’re seen as trying to be inclusive, and they’re clearly not. The portraits that I think are the more successful are where there is more to it than just paint. With this project I set myself up for something very difficult, and I have made some of my worst portraits; but they touch upon some of the things I want them to. It feels like a first step, not the last. There’s a language that you build up. My knowledge of the language of painting is relatively broad and developed, but the reason this was interesting to do, was that I didn’t just want to convey the language that I already know, and the NPG was excited by that. The show ended up being very different from what I thought it would be: drawings, on found materials, like a book I found the following day, after clubbing; a dance record sleeve, from the ’40s, a 10”, it’s called something like, Dancing in the Club, like ragtime, big band. These drawings could be of those people in the ’40s. The drawing of Mabli on that sleeve, it’s a better drawing, not only because the lines are rhythmic, but also because it’s super-intimate. For me, that’s one of the more successful ones. It’s not beautifying, it’s of hangovers, coming down, it’s pretty honest; it’s not about vulnerability necessarily, but an openness of that moment. Similarly, the George one; it’s just a guy sitting down. We’ve all seen people sitting like that. I could make better paintings that could convey these things more clearly. I’m cool with that. I’m pleased that I want to continue with them though. It’s truthful to the point of where I am with it. There are some works I did that look more like clubbing, or more like a painting of someone in a club; but they just didn’t convey the decisions I made. Also, the fact I have undermined the drawing of Mabli by putting it on a record sleeve, that I’ve put these paintings on steel, using a tiny amount of paint, actually I like that idea, upsetting my own and other people’s expectations. RL: Is this work going against what you did after college, and then for a living for years?
CW: I’m trying to be grubby, straightforward, less of the, ‘I must do this, use that paint, on canvas’, all that; and that’s what I’ve been known for in certain galleries – I know that language. The fact that I’m using materials that are unreliable – found objects, sheets of metal – and the reflections on the metal are very different depending on how you look at them; there’s fallibility there and the subjects – hangovers, clubs, bars – those moments are fallible too. The one of Dan, from one angle, it can look like a load of diamonds in rhythm, then you go two feet to the left, the light is different and it becomes a sweaty person in a club; go another two feet, and you see his eyes aren’t quite full, they’re just gestures; the surface and the image break down again. The two pieces I’m most pleased with were the quickest ones. They’re slick, glossy paint on steel, or zinc; it’s like lip gloss, it’s gross, like Vaseline, or sweat – sits upon a surface and can be wiped away; it speaks of transience. When I look at an old master, I sort of trace the mark, say, of a hand, I can try and see how something is done. There’s a famous Titian, and there’s an arm, Mary’s arm I think, and there’s a veil hanging over it, and it’s joyous, because that veil was definitely on an arm, but I can see the mark, and I can trace the gesture. And these paintings I’ve done, anyone can follow those gestures. When I’m in the studio, it’s dark, I have blaring music; it’s nothing new, but these paintings, they come from that place, they are of the space. It’s a simple thing. But if you can buy into it, it’s there. I think that if I were a young person seeing these, I could be excited by them, and I’m keen on that. I think that when I see the people who are liking them on social media, they know these feelings, the work speaks of something. These are not studious portraits, not like the winner of the main award this time. I’m a fan of portraiture, but I think these are more contemporary art. RL: You still class yourself as a painter? CW: To be honest, a lot of painting can be misogynistic, all boys’ club. I’m not interested in that, but I am interested in painting, and my practice sits between dual worlds; it’s a shit place to be in, because it doesn’t fulfil fine art and it doesn’t fulfil portraiture. I have to be careful now to make sure I am honing a discipline that I am actually proud of. To say that one year’s work comes down to a bunch of confetti on the floor, I’m happy with that. But I think that a lot of people might not realise that that’s the most important bit. They’ll walk up to the show and see a collection of paintings and drawings, and say,
‘oh, there’s an oil painting, oil on linen, oil on metal, found objects with drawings on; oh, and there’s bits of confetti’. But the confetti is truly the rhythm and colours, and that’s it really. I can see the issues with it; but this is the result of a period of research. RL: What conversations did you have with the curators at the National Portrait Gallery about your pushing the idea of what a portrait is? CW: The BP prize is meant to be the most prominent portrait prize, but I don’t think it’s the best representation of people’s faces. I think I’m asking a lot of the regular BP Portrait viewers to make a leap in looking at these works, to get what I’m trying to put across. I do think that some of the faces in this show are the first, and maybe the last time that these sorts of faces will be shown there, for a while anyway. The next Travel Award is going to someone who painted a homeless person. It stood out, you know. We’re all aware of the Portrait Gallery’s history, of showing communicative tools that talk about hierarchy; it’s a place where queens and kings, the upper classes, used to get portrayed, and we looked upon them; I’m trying to do something that is pretty much classless. When you start dancing in a nightclub, it’s not really a class-based thing. A lot of the paintings at the Portrait Gallery are there to show the sitter. I’m not trying to do that; it’s more about a moment of feeling. I mean, there are faces, so they’re safe, but… I was chosen for the award because they were excited that I didn’t know what I was going to do and, throughout the year, I could have done ten shows, and each would be totally different. And this last iteration, in no way do I think it is the perfect one, or the final. Actually I can take a step back now, and by the time it’s toured to Edinburgh and Wolverhampton, it might be very different. RL: Are you going to keep making paintings like these then? CW: I’m going to get more sitters, because I’m realising what I think will work, won’t necessarily.
Casper White's exhibition is part of this year's BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London until 23 September 2018. It tours to Wolverhampton Art Gallery 13 October – 2 December 2018 and Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh 15 Dec 2018 – 10 March 2019 casperwhite.com npg.org.uk
Hope and Light Comforted my Heart For Manifesta 12, Taiwanese artist Yahon Chang is presenting multiple large-scale ink paintings in the exhibition Poetry of the Flow, curated by Maria Rus Bojan. Using traditional Chinese ink painting techniques in a less than traditional, highly physical manner, Yahon commits body and soul to painting. Here the artist tells CCQ about his work drive and motivation.
As a student, I never did well academically, but I could paint and draw. I got into art school in Taiwan to study interior design, lighting design and architecture. When I finished college, I started a construction company. At the age of 42 though, when business was booming, I suddenly became very ill and I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t walk properly. I felt this heavy, heavy grief. I stopped work immediately and went abroad for a while, and I started painting. When I first painted, I did not stop for three days and nights. After
this marathon session, I found that my illness had been healed. So, ever since then, for the last 30 years, I have not stopped painting. I have to paint every day, for at least three hours, otherwise I will get sick again.
I make the materials I use to paint â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the brushes are of my own design and the rice paper I make is four times thicker than regular paper, so it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t break, as my way of painting is very physical.
Painting is like exercise to me, I sweat a lot, and I cry too (I need to change my shirt at least every 30 minutes!) I have a wooden chair and a wooden bed in my studio, so I can take a nap if I need to.
Not so long ago, I was a devoted Buddhist, I almost became a monk. But, in 2000, my wife passed away. The Buddhist monks could not give me the support that I needed at the time, when I was at my very lowest. Around then, I walked by a church; I went in, on my (cont.)
all spreads: Poetry of the Flow, (installation details), Yahon Chang, 2018; ink, ricepaper and bed sheets, dimensions various; photos: Lane 216 East
own, and sat there listening to the hymns. Hope and light comforted my heart, so I went back there every week for 10 years, just to listen. ***
I have some Christian friends, who comforted and supported my children and me, when we were grieving and in so much pain. Eventually we converted to Christianity because of the care that we got from them. Any time I feel grief, my faith allows me to refocus and make better decisions in every area of my life. As I sit quietly in my studio, I calm down, the spirit of God fills me and I receive inspiration; I know what to paint. ***
I own a tea place, a cafe, in Taiwan. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a social platform, a place to make friends; there is a close relationship between tea ceremonies, traditional calligraphy, philosophy and Buddhism. For me itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a place to go with my friends, rather than a nightclub or strip club, which is the norm in the business world in Taiwan. I grew up in a family where there has long been a tradition of enjoying tea. I am making my own tea now, and my tea place has become a tourist destination in its own right. My work, which is shown at museums and major biennials around the world, seems to touch others; this has come of something of a surprise to me. When I came to Palermo, three weeks ago, to make the work for my Manifesta presentation, I noticed there are many different ethnicities living side by side quite happily, and people here have generally been very friendly. I also noticed there are serious immigration and refugee issues; these are groups of people that need much more attention from us. I painted a picture of refugees on a boat, floating on the ocean, when I got here. ***
The faces that I paint are faces of abandonment. Some of the faces are reflections of the unhappy people I see in business and politics, people obsessively competing with one another. I paint them with unhappy animal faces, turning them into dogs, monkeys and cats.
(with many thanks to Yahon Chang's interpreter)
Yahon Chan, Poetry of the Flow, curated by Maria Rus Bojan, is showing at Sala delle Armi, Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri, Piazza Marina 61, 90133, Palermo, Italy until 19 August 2018, as a collateral event to Manifesta 12 manifesta.org
No Hierarchy Here Brussels is succeeding, where other cities have failed, in creating an art scene that goes some way towards integrating commercial galleries and collectors with artist-run spaces and institutions. At the launch of Art Brussels’ 50th birthday edition Ric Bower spoke to the director of the art fair, Anne Vierstraete, about this process of integration, sustainability and the role of the commercial gallery. Ric Bower: What do you need in a city to maintain an art fair?
RB: So, do you think it is about establishing what you do clearly?
Anne Vierstraete: In 1968, when the fair was started off by 11 galleries, it was because there was no contemporary art museum and no modern art museum in Brussels, and they wanted to fill the vacuum. Over the years, the vacuum forced a certain creativity and necessitated the taking of initiatives, not only by the fair but also by collectors, galleries and artists themselves. The result is that Brussels is not institutionalised when it comes to art. There is no hierarchy; young artists can mix freely with established practices and galleries. Also, Brussels is quite small, and most art activity is concentrated in certain areas where it is cheaper; so, artists, curators, gallerists, etc network spontaneously. It just happens.
AV: We are a fair, and work with the fair model. This brings challenges, firstly to be the promotion and selling platform, which the galleries that show here expect us to be – to connect artists, galleries, curators and, of course, collectors – and secondly, to establish an identity of our own. We started the Discovery section in 2005, with 10 galleries, today there are more than 30. I look back at some of the names that were there then – Haegue Yang, Elmgreen & Dragset, Adrian Ghenie, Tomás Saraceno and David Adamo, for instance – they are very much on the international scene now and I am sure being in the Discovery section of Art Brussels contributed to that. It’s important that we have a line into the important collectors and, when they come here, they expect to find something different from the bigger shows and fairs. So we also have six or seven artistic projects, plus a discursive programme. We look at the art and we look at the projects and we just go for it.
RB: So, once bureaucracies and institutions have slowed everything to a crawl, what do you do to get rid of them; what advice would you have? AV: They are, of course, also very useful, because if you look at other capital cities, like Paris or London, there is a lot going on because of these big institutions, and they are attracting all kinds of tourism. It’s not only about the fair here, it’s about the city, and that’s what our OFF Programme is for; we use it to show the most prominent Brussels’ institutions, but also the smaller artist-run spaces, and the private collections because, as you know, Belgium is a country of collectors. So, it’s these combined forces that make the city and its art scene attractive.
RB: What do you expect back for the money you invest in the projects?
RB: How do you view the fair in relation to its bigger brothers and sisters – Art Basel and Frieze say?
RB: So, for you, art is more than a mere commodity?
AV: It is something that positions our identity. To be honest, this year we said we would do no projects, we had no budget. But, we are enthusiasts, we couldn’t resist it. We decided we should commission a film, and the result was Crossed Wires by Philippine Hoegen. We gave her an open brief to consider in what context the fair was established, its context today, what nourishes the fair and what the fair gives back.
AV: Yes, of course. AV: This is my fifth edition of Art Brussels so, of course, when you get into the system, you look at these other bigger fairs and imagine you’d like to become more like them, but I came to the conclusion that, when it comes down to it, we just need to know who we are and what we do, we need to be distinctive.
RB: I was chatting with an emerging gallerist, who has started to show at fairs in the last year or so. She was saying that they have a huge problem balancing a show that satisfies their artistic sensibilities with one that sells well enough for them not to go bankrupt. They work with
previous spread: The Power of None, Maarten Vanden Eynde, 2018, presented in the context of Mystic Properties at Art Brussels; wood, metal, copper wire, printed silicon wafers, silicon sculpted brain, 500 x 500 x 120 cm, courtesy of the artist and Meessen De Clercq Gallery, Brussels; photo: Ric Bower This work is based on the legendary classification of diatoms by J.D. Möller (1844 1907). Diatoms are microscopic single-cell algae, featuring hundreds of thousands of varieties of unique ornamental forms. They were often referred to as 'jewels of the sea', and collected alongside other miniature curiosities. Today, they are used as templates for developing new types of solar cells. Fascinated by complex phenomena, Vanden Eynde reflects on the properties of diatoms and their use through history – from the curiosity of collectors and the interest of science to the current raw material for nanotechnology – the new power to come. current spread: )pause(, Ante Timmermans, 2014, presented in the context of Mystic Properties at Art Brussels; drawing, pencil, acrylic and oil pastel on paper, six drawings each +/240 x 210 cm; courtesy of the artist; photo: Ric Bower Based on Samuel Beckett's “Waiting for Godot”, )pause( is a daring translation of this landmark of the 20th century into the medium of drawing. Complete stage instructions to the play fill monumental proportions on paper, handwritten by Timmermans, who brings Beckett’s famous critique of the grand narrative of 'progress' to our age of the Internet. In )pause(, linear time disappears, blending with Timmermans’ own attempt to reflect on the 'movement of waiting' and the tragedy and comedy of the myth of progress. o.T. (entertaint) further develops the artist’s reflection on modern grid, control, and the 'dis-enchantment of the world'.
an artist, putting on an exciting, but essentially non-commercial show at a fair, then the artist is taken on by a bigger gallery, when they’ve done the majority of the spadework. How can you see the hegemony of the bigger galleries being broken and how could the fair help in that process? AV: It’s important to understand the risk that the galleries who show younger, or less well known artists take, to recognise that they spend money, and an enormous amount of energy, on promoting them, and that they also often invest in the production of new work... RB: …but how do we make it more sustainable, because if we lose the smaller galleries then we lose the entry point... AV: …You need to have means as a gallerist (there is no avoiding this fact): to be able to promote your artists; to travel to find new ones; to meet collectors and curators; to accompany the work that is shown abroad; to organise events in your own gallery; to participate in art fairs, and to hire staff. No artist will stay in a gallery that just exists within its own city and with the collectors there. The whole world has become globalised, and the art world with it. This desire to engage with new territories, to establish a new trend, it’s part of the whole economy of the art world, and it’s very hard for a young gallery to continue being part of that. The only way we
have managed to help is to make the costs more sympathetic in the Discovery section, also we give a prize within the Discovery section, a prize which goes to the gallery, not the artist. It’s to underline what these galleries do in working with newer artists and accompanying them towards greater recognition. But I don’t have the solution to what you are asking; we do things at our level as far as we can. RB: Daniel Lie, the Brazilian artist, said recently that as an artist you are either a vagabond, or a superstar... AV: Yes, we seem to lack a kind of intermediary position, and when you hear the statistics about how few artists are able to live from the proceeds of their practice alone, it’s really worrying. RB: One final question, and that’s about how do we prepare artists for the world they are entering. The thing I hear a lot from galleries, is there is a sense of entitlement amongst young artists, they have the feeling that galleries should be there at their beck and call. AV: It’s a good question. There are quite a few artists that look at galleries and the whole system, and who try to find their way through artist-run spaces. I don’t know how they manage, to be honest, but it seems that some are happy to have collectors following them,
like mecenas de las artes in ancient times. But it’s mainly curators who are taking up the slack here, placing them in shows, and passionate collectors, visiting artist-run spaces, but... RB: ...that’s quite ad hoc, isn’t it? AB: Yes, I’m not saying that the gallery model is the only good one, but it’s a pragmatic solution for the world we find ourselves in. I always advise artists to find a gallery, someone who will accompany them on their journey in a meaningful way. We have been partnering with the HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Arts), in Ghent for over 20 years. We asked them to create artistic menus, so you can ask for something off the menu, and the artist comes to perform something for you. And this year we have been working around themes related to the iconic Mystic Lamb painting. It resulted in the exhibition Mystic Properties, curated by Elena Sorokina. We’ve connected with alumni of HISK, inviting them to make responses to the work and demonstrating the added value of having the artists working in residence. It’s a bridge between a fair and an institution serving the practice of contemporary art.
Art Brussels will be held 25 – 28 April 2019, at Tour & Taxis, Brussels artbrussels.com
In Vodka Veritas CCQ invited a group of artists at RIBOCA, the first Riga Biennial, to engage in a vodka-fuelled round-table conversation, which took its inspiration from the ancients’ approach to organising a symposium. Before proposing a toast, each artist was invited to respond, in turn, to a provocation from Fagot Koroviev. The idea of a symposium has, in recent centuries, become synonymous with measured and objective, academic exchange, usually within the safety of an institutional space. But, for the ancients, a symposium was more of a happening, a quest for truth – veritas – lubricated with wine and presided over by a symposiarch. CCQ invited artists Jevgeni Zolotko, Sasha Huber & Petri Saarikko, Marco Montiel-Soto, James Beckett, Teemu Korpela, Taus Makhacheva, and Stine Marie Jacobsen, participating artists at RIBOCA, the first Riga Biennial, to participate in a symposium – in the original sense – during the Biennial’s opening weekend. Vodka shots, in place of wine, were liberally administered to the participants to facilitate the disclosure of aletheia; the collaborators sought a spirit of clarity in an arena of curated and subjective complexity. Fagot Koroviev acted the part of symposiarch/game show/bar man for the evening. In Vodka Veritas was kindly hosted by Michael Landy at his contribution to RIBOCA, a ‘booth for Britain’ entitled Open for Business.
Fagot Koroviev: Thank you Marco, how delightfully quaint. Now James Beckett is suitably lubricated, I’ll begin by asking about his presentation of a scale replica of a 19th century ruin in Holland; a magnificent industrial creation, a technical tour-de-force that burned down; do you think, in the 21st century, we should be making more monuments to failure?
Marco Montiel-Soto: A toast… a toast to…. Britain.
James Beckett: The building’s demise was due to technical failures, (there were no fire regulations, of course, back then). There are many structural aspects that it shares in common with a family of buildings –
James Beckett (b. 1977) is a Zimbabwean–born artist currently living in Amsterdam. For RIBOCA, Beckett presented Palace Ruin, a reconstruction of the former Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace of Popular Diligence), the Netherlands’ own Crystal Palace, which went up in flames in 1929. An archival photo shows a flank of the remaining building, amid a haze of smoke and debris, the morning after attempts to douse the fire failed. Beckett recreates this moment in the form of a large sculpture, a smoldering wreck – part horror house, part memorial.
All: To Britain...Cheers!
Crystal Palace in London for instance – then there were similar buildings in Madrid, Paris, Munich and Amsterdam; they were all architectural display cases for hosting exhibitions. The one in Munich was an exhibition hall, influenced by botanical architecture. They were built with a mix of materials, to begin with they were meant to be purist – made with just iron and glass – but then there was the wooden floor and panels and the fabric. They were designed to burn, in a way.
Fagot Koroviev: Thank you James, it’s your turn to propose a toast.
Fagot Koroviev: You use this wonderful term, ‘rambling logic’, in the accompanying text to the work, what do you mean by that?
Fagot Koroviev: Taus, the speakers you’ve placed on tripods, they’re superficially different, but fundamentally similar in design that is. Are they symbols of our own homogenisation as human beings?
James Beckett: We work very hard as artists and we are away from our homes and our families a lot. When we work together though, we create new kinds of familial bonds; this toast then is to Art’s many cousins. All: To Art’s many cousins... Gesondheid!
James Beckett: It’s synonymous with something like sprawling, or growing without planning. If you look at Belgium, there’s a lot of haphazard building, a lot of seeing what comes and not so much urban planning; more like letting things grow, like a plant. One leads to the next… A healthy complexity.
Taus Makhacheva (b. 1983) is a Russian artist, based in Moscow. Working primarily with video, Makhacheva often turns her attention to the traditions of her multi-ethnic origin before Sovietisation. The idea for Makhacheva’s RIBOCA presentation stems from a loss of humanism, as she perceives it, a sense of guilt and anxiety that manifests in the apologies we all seem to start our emails with. The installation is comprised of numerous small travelling speakers of all different brands and shapes. From each speaker a different first line of an email is heard.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: Trying to free language, as well as architecture, from grammar and from national control is important. We need to make space for the rambling and for gibberish. Jevgeni Zolotko: Those buildings James, they are industrial phalluses… like the Eiffel Tower.
Taus Makhacheva: With respect to speakers, I have no idea what you are on about, but there is something in what you say in relation to the words we all use and what they mean. In an apology, for example, the words themselves are generic; difference and meaning, within a particular statement, are expressed though nuance. It’s about chatter, and yes, it is homogenised. But, as you listen more closely to the emails being read, you pick out things; my first email to Katerina (Gregos, chief curator at RIBOCA), with all its apologies, is a big part of the piece…
Marco Montiel-Soto: What’ll happen to your work James, is it staying here? James Beckett: It looks permanent, but it’s not. It was interesting having the fire safety officer come on the first day to check it out. The scale is 1:2, and it’s just a fragment of the ruined building. Normally you propose a project in architecture with a scale model, say 1:200. When you shrink something you fetishise it, you can’t have the actual thing, so you have something else that represents it. This work is after the fact though, unlike a maquette, which is a proposal.
Fagot Koroviev: So, in essence, we’re not good enough as human beings. And, as we become increasingly digitised, so our failure becomes more evident.
Taus Makhacheva: Of course we’re good enough, we’re better than good enough! Yes, we’re always behind on answering emails, and we have the impression that we’re not fast enough. But perhaps we should just kill the people who are fast enough.
Fagot Koroviev: No one apologises to me for replying to an email late… but then I am not the head of an institution! Taus Makhacheva: I think you should get on to those artists that haven’t turned up tonight…
Fagot Koroviev: So who should we begin by killing? Fagot Koroviev: Will you kill them for me Taus? Taus Makhacheva: I am not naming names... Taus Makhacheva: Well, I’ll demand an apology at very least. Jevgeni Zolotko: No, we’re not good enough, because we don’t scrutinise our behaviour. Opening emails is something that we are expected to do and we don’t question it. At the end of the day, it’s just another behaviour pattern we choose not to question.
Fagot Koroviev: Thank you Taus, and now it’s your turn to propose the toast. Taus Makhacheva: I’d like to drink to the volumes of our inboxes becoming much lower than they are right now.
Fagot Koroviev: ...but Taus is questioning it now… All: To tiny inboxes...Nostrovia! Jevgeni Zolotko: Too little, too late, my friend. I think a lot of what we are actually seeking today is socialised meaning. My life will be meaningful if... if you go to this particular beach, or if I buy this particular car.
Fagot Koroviev: Turning to Teemu now: You experienced a generalised sense of loss, when you visited the former Faculty of Biology, (one of the RIBOCA sites), for the first time. Productive melancholy as an idea, as a necessary transitional phase, how significant is this to you, and how does it translate into beautiful, delicate works on paper?
Taus Makhacheva: But we are all biennial artists aren’t we? We’re all institutionalised and we play these social games gladly; we turn up like clockwork, every two years. The problem is that artists require inner production time; I can’t make decent work in less than six months. Then we have this parallel ‘email time’, which I am talking about in this particular piece. I sent this email out to about 100 people, most of whom work in the artworld; three replied that they don’t apologise for replying late any more, they say ‘thank you for your patience.’ It was also interesting, hearing back from heads of institutions, to know that they too share our anxieties about digital death. One of the standard excises was, 'your email was trapped in my spam'.
Teemu Korpela (b. 1980) is a Finnish painter. For RIBOCA Korpela presented Deposition 1, an installation made of paper painted with floral shapes, referencing the former Faculty of Biology’s dwindling archive.
Teemu Korpela: It’s a kind of synesthesia – the concepts and the sensations intertwine – and then I try to make the abstract phenomena into something tangible. In doing this, I think about the material on the one hand – I’m a painter after all – and, on the other hand, it’s helpful to consider philosophy and semiotics. For this installation, the semiotic starting point was the floral collection that they used to have here. The
empty spaces of the Biological Faculty became a sort of metaphor for the ongoing processes in nature where species are vanishing. There is so much that we, as humans, have tried to collect and study, to bring together, but it never seems to be enough. There’s a growing sense that, if these things we have collected and studied disappear, we are going to disappear with them. The starting point for the work is a realisation that all the knowledge we have, about the sensitivity of the natural structures, does not seem to be able to save us.
a big parking lot for trailers. It was empty apart from one animal trailer, a multi-layered one. I heard noises coming from it, animal noises; the animals were staying for the night on their own, without the front end of the truck. I wandered on to my own dormitory building, which was situated just beyond it. Fagot Koroviev: The philosopher Theodor Adorno, broadly speaking, claimed that good art should make you unhappy, would you agree with this?
Jevgeni Zolotko: Is it nihilism that you’re working with then? Petri Saarikko: I agree! Teemu Korpela: Jevgeni, if I were a nihilist, I would’ve hanged myself a long time ago.
Marco Montiel-Soto: If it makes you unhappy, perhaps it’s because the work is about truth and maybe we are all are living in an arty bubble here? Perhaps art, and all us artists with it, should be cast out of our comfortable spaces!
Petri Saarikko: Teemu and I were looking in the archives here, and we found these plants, which were stored, squeezed between pieces of paper, with their imprints on the paper surface. It is as though the plants have been sleeping. Some of them are still green, even though they had been there since the 1830s. We were touching something that had been dead for 150 years, but somehow it still seemed to be alive. It gives a sense of hope, and I think that Teemu’s work comes out of that.
Teemu Korpela: The work that I do is often about understanding that unhappiness. It makes me do what I do and it's why I am an artist. Jevgeni Zolotko: So we are all running around to get happiness, but does Adorno define what happiness, and therefore what unhappiness, is? Happiness for me, it’s is a short term thing. And it’s always shifting, it’s a movable horizon.
Jevgeni Zolotko: I thought that the work had been done by a woman, actually. It’s so sensitive, so fragile. You know that, in ice mountains, there are lifeforms that were alive 5,000 years ago – bacteria – and they are coming alive all over again… it’s happening now!
Fagot Koroviev: I think dissatisfaction is a better term than unhappiness. As artists, we are contributing to that general dissatisfaction, that movable horizon. Because we are offering a glimpse of an alternative reality, how things could be better.
Fagot Koroviev: Teemu, what would you like to raise a toast to? Teemu Korpela: I would like to raise a toast to save humanity, and if you think that is naïve, you can fuck off.
Jevgeni Zolotko: Of course. When I make a work, I fail all the time; the horizon moves and I get it wrong. And it’s the same with happiness, it’s always moving.
All: To save humanity… Kippis! Fagot Koroviev: So, Jevgeni, your work, Sacrifice, is situated in an isolated part of the docks, an old animal trailer with these strange and violent noises coming from it. I understand you are keen that your work should hook into the limbic system, the collection of structures deep in the brain which, amongst other things, play an important role in the construction of memory and in our emotions. Is this a section of the brain that’s not successfully accessed by the art world at present?
Fagot Koroviev: So, how would you distinguish an artwork from, say, a human rights campaign? Marco Montiel-Soto: I work as an anthropologist on expeditions, I do not work directly with politics, and I would regard a human rights campaign as being political. Venezuela is very different from how it appears in the newspapers. When I phone my mother and she is saying she is happy because she has electricity, or she asks me, ‘do you remember that person, well she was killed the other day’; or if she says she is happy because there is toilet paper in the shops, these are existential anthropological issues, they are not political. I am an artist, not an activist.
Jevgeni Zolotko (b. 1983) lives and works in Tartu, Estonia. His installations delve into our shared suppressed consciousness. His presentation at RIBOCA consists of a trailer, formerly used for the transportation of cattle, standing alone in the middle of an empty field; primordial and violent noises emanate from the lonely construction.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: Politicians would rather work with artists than with scientists, or with a human rights campaign, because we’re not as big a threat. It doesn’t even matter what we define ourselves as, because they know that if we are artists, they can let us into whatever institution. Notions of paints and sculptures hang around us, we don’t carry the same organisationally threatening system at our backs as human rights campaigners would do. So I think we have to be very aware that we can become potential bridge builders, if we’re very clever when we’re invited in.
Jevgeni Zolotko: Those words, ‘the limbic system’, they’re not my words, it’s from an Estonian critic’s text about me. I have absolutely no idea what he meant. Fagot Koroviev: Ok, so what about horror, do you watch horror films? Sacrifice would seem to fit within that genre. Jevgeni Zolotko: No. I watched a small bit of one film when I was nine, and never again. No, the ideas behind this work come from a very different place. For four years, I had been living in a dormitory for labourers, in an industrial area of the city, so it’s alive during the daytime, but dead at night, just full of silent concrete. I got to know the stories of everyone there. One evening, I walked back late to the dormitory, past
Teemu Korpela: We are constantly bombarded by these alienating simulacra, which are so much more than the sum of the realities of what we experience. We try to live out our lives virtually. For example, we don’t have sex, we watch porn, because the porn is 10 times better than the real thing. So there’s this constant feeling that we are lacking something.
first spread, left hand page: Portrait of Michael Landy in front of: Open for Business, Michael Landy, 2018, Site-specific temporary installation, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London first spread, right hand page: Palace Ruin, James Beckett, 2016, Public sculpture (powdercoated steel, accoya acetylated wood, multiplex, Indian ink, smoke), 7.2 x 3.5 x 5.7 m, courtesy the artist and Wilfried Lentz, Rotterdam second spread: Dear R., R., K., S., M., A., C., S., K., I., G., L., A., A., L., P., G., E., J., D., M., C., B., O., F., F., R., D., M., E., L., I., F., L., A., M., T., K., K., L., P., F., V., A., L., L.., Taus Makhacheva, 2018, installation, mixed media, speakers, sound, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist current spread: Deposition 1, Teemu Korpela, 2018, Site-specific installation, acrylic paint and pigment on Fabriano paper, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist fourth spread: The Sacrifice, Jevgeny Zolotko, 2018, Installation, mixed media (livestock trailer, sound mechanism), continuous sound loop, approx. 800 x 260 x 350 cm, courtesy the artist fifth spread: Permanent Storm for a Tropical Constellation, Marco MontielSoto, 2017, Three-channel video installation, colour, sound, wood, bamboo, water, palm leaves, zinc, plastic, light bulbs, photographs, coins, plaster figures, clothes, flag, nets, hammock, boat, oars, hat, tapestries, newspaper, coconuts, stuffed piranhas, maps, Duration 75’ 42”, courtesy the artist Carmen Araujo Arte, Caracas and Galería José de la Fuente, Santander sixth spread: Pidgin Tongue, Stine Marie Jacobsen, 2018, Sculpture (wood), publication, 200 x 320 x 100 cm, courtesy the artist seventh spread: Dziedināšana Remedies, Sasha Huber & Petri Saarikko, 2018, hardcover book, 15.5 x 20.5 cm, courtesy the artists
Taus Makhacheva: To be honest, I’m not really interested in being a bridge between activism and art, or getting access into this or that political arena. I suggest that we get hold of a psychic and call up Adorno, because I think that he meant that good art moves you. We need to double check with him. Fagot Koroviev: And so, it’s Jevgeni’s turn to make his toast. Jevgeni Zolotko: OK, I know this thought is vodka-fuelled, but I would like to raise a glass to the human condition, and that someone will get what we do as artists. All: To someone getting us...Terviseks! Fagot Koroviev: Marco, you’re presenting a straightforward, virtual world, in the context of an artworld, which is self-referential and cynical. How do you, as a straight talking artist, function in an artworld that is so fucked up. Marco Montiel-Soto (b. 1976) originates from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and now lives and works in Berlin. As a self-professed traveller and immigrant, his installations explore the intersections between the political and the poetic, in relation to his homeland’s traditions, economy, archaeology, religion and myths. For RIBOCA Montiel-Soto presented Permanent Storm for a Tropical Constellation, an artificial lake with a wooden bamboo stilt house in the water, (palafito, in Spanish). The installation is enriched by a plethora of visual stimuli including: videos; photographs; maps; nets, pictures of saints; coconuts and fish. The palafito represents a typical construction of the surviving villages of Lake Maracaibo.
Marco Montiel-Soto: When I get a show invitation, I always try to do an expedition, and I collect stories. I want to travel, I like to meet people like you, people who are fucked up. Fagot Koroviev: Coping with folk who are fucked up though, people like me, it can’t be easy! Marco Montiel-Soto: I travel geographically and I travel in time as well. I look into histories of people and how they have come to be where they are. When the first Spanish came to Venezuela, and they saw people living on Lake Maracaibo in houses, they thought it looked like Venice, so they called it 'Little Venice', Venezuela. Then the Germans came looking for the mythical El Dorado; the Spanish owed them money, so they gave it to them and they called Maracaibo, my city, 'New Nürnberg' (Neu-Nürnberg). The Germans did not find El Dorado, of course, so they left and the Spanish returned. We are in the Third World now, in Venezuela, everything has been taken: the gold, the oil; I am showing people what is left. Petri Saarikko: I have copied something of what I have seen and transposed it into my work, and I struggle with the idea of exploitation as a result, that I am exploiting other people’s realities. I go to Africa and make pictures of dying children, then come back to Europe and put them in an exhibition. Teemu Korpela: The work is there to expose what we are… Ok… So this was not as profound as I thought it was going to be. Fagot Koroviev: No, I get you... Marco is presenting an alternative reality and, by looking at it, we are actually revealing who we are? Marco Montiel-Soto: What I am presenting is not my reality now, for sure, I live in Berlin, but it was my reality when I lived there. My surname is the same as that of many people in these villages, I speak the dialect of the region; if a German or French artist went to work in El Congo, the village I am focusing on in this presentation, it might be different. The village is going to disappear
though, there are only 20 families there now. What I did was try to preserve what was happening. I hope that the people who see the installation will be able to feel something about the villagers, their everyday life; they don’t have doctors and they have little electricity… and because I am from that particular place in Venezuela, I feel it more intensely I think. It’s like going to Cuba, and everyone really likes it there, but the Cuban people are fucked. Fagot Koroviev: Everyone, do you all have vodka? Jevgeni d’you have some?... Go on have some more, I’m the doctor here, look into my eyes, not around my eyes... Jevgeni Zolotko: I’m looking into your fuckin’ ass at the moment. Fagot Koroviev: And Marco, your toast is? Marco Montiel-Soto: If we are going to do something with our hearts, it is best not to have a heart attack. All: To a heart attack, Salud! Fagot Koroviev: The Greeks said that, when you get to the sixth Krator ( jug of wine, or round of vodka shots in our case), you’re basically screwed, we’re now on the eighth and in the realms of insanity. At this point it feels appropriate to talk to Stine about language, Stine, can you tell us about what you’ve learned from the workshops you conducted in Latvia, as part of your project for RIBOCA?. Stine Marie Jacobsen is a conceptual artist and educator living in Berlin and Copenhagen, working to decode violence and law through participatory means. With a focus on film, language, gender, violence and psychology, she conducts performative experiments and creates participatory projects worldwide for critical thinking and new ways of looking at ethics, identity, control, fear and trust.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: For this project I worked with Latvian and Russian kids on a language project. This is sensitive territory, because of the prior Russian occupation; Russia has eradicated Latvia three times. And, right now, some political parties are wanting to close the Russian schools in Latvia. Educational material is currently 60 per cent Latvian, and will go up to 80 per cent. I wanted to try and liberate language from this arena of political control and the cultural suffering it induces. As it is now, here, the Russian mothertongue speakers and Latvian mother-tongue speakers don’t really engage with one another before they get to their early twenties, which makes the country very vulnerable to political manipulation... Fagot Koroviev: ...and why is that? Stine Marie Jacobsen: I think national languages are very closely linked to politics within a country… We all know that, in many countries, people can get permissions to stay depending on their passport status but, in a lot of places, language can be the passport to stay somewhere. Right now there are 300,000 Russians in Latvia without citizenship, many of the Russians who do have a Latvian citizenship, have had to take a Latvian language test. So, language is directly linked to nation states. Language has been kidnapped. Fagot Koroviev: How is violence integrated into how we speak? Stine Marie Jacobsen: Many politicians are saying that they need to change their language because the citizens don’t believe them anymore. In the US, they don’t care, because it’s been ‘Trumped’, kidnapped; it’s like Newspeak, from Nineteen Eighty-Four; we speak, but as we speak we cover up truth; the light is flashing, but it’s flashing dark. I work with children and I am particularly
interested in them because they don’t have these boundaries naturally, the boundaries are imposed on them. When the two groups of children I worked with met, they couldn’t speak to one another for the most part. They started to find another language, like Pidgin.
James Beckett: What is your background Stine? Stine Marie Jacobsen: I’m an artist, I’m not a linguist. I’m much more dialogue-based, in that I work like a journalist who creates platforms for sharing political statements.
James Beckett: For me, as an African, Pidgin is a Central/West African, Ghanaian, Cameroonian, post-colonial thing. There were so many languages, in Cameroon, for example, some say more than 200, because there was so much dense forest and people couldn’t travel easily. So, until colonisation, different peoples couldn’t speak to one another. Pidgin was a simpler hybrid of the colonial languages.
Fagot Koroviev: The dialogues between the non-overlapping magisteria of art and science have, in recent European history at least, been rare. But you are freely moving between the two. Is that a lonely place to be? Stine Marie Jacobsen: It’s not lonely. I work with big teams, – cinematographers, politicians, teachers…
Stine Marie Jacobsen: So, like the word cookbook, would be written 'cukbuk'. Nigeria just accepted Pidgin Tongue as an official language...
Fagot Koroviev: But do they have any idea what you’re doing?
James Beckett: ...and the BBC has a Pidgin service in West Africa. In a way it’s about trauma, and about post colonialism and it’s very relevant. It’s like a street thing, a means toward a solution.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: They know about use of language. Art institutions will give you two weeks to work with a group of people on a sensitive topic, but an organisation from the world of social science will say, ‘Oh you want to work with refugees, expats, immigrants, we’ll give you a year’. So I get my money from the world of social science and then I negotiate a project within the art world. There are so many restrictions in art institutions, it’s always about time and budget. I work with a lot of participants. They’re not just pawns, and I can’t just take something from them and then leave; there is responsibility embedded within what I do. I want to be politically satirical, but I end up having to adhere to a code of ethical correctness, and that
Teemu Korpela: Do you have any philosophers of language you look to? Wittgenstein comes to mind. Stine Marie Jacobsen: My practice is, to a large extent, based in practical social work, in the empirical rather than the theoretical. I’m in the streets working with non-art institutions. I’m trying to form a bridge between different worlds.
bothers me, because satire and doing things that are risky and incorrect are very important too.
for yourself. The more that becomes patented, the more it becomes regulated, and so it becomes commercialised. The remedies that we have collected are a demonstration against this whole notion of commercialisation. This is happening systematically in many areas, especially in arts and humanities; lots of theoretical thinking became a tool for technocratic change. And language has a really big role in this, that’s why we wanted to start the project without language, and to use activity instead. I think that tradition can have really nasty connotations with nationalism.
Teemu Korpela: I think people should read more Marquis de Sade… Stine Marie Jacobsen: In the type of work that I do, I’d much rather work with libertines than politicians; people in power, that’s the hard part. Fagot Koroviev: Stine, can you do the toast? We’ve run out of vodka, I’ve failed as a symposiarch.
Fagot Koroviev: But you’re still dealing with particular geographical realities…
Taus Makhacheva: We have a private stash! Fagot Koroviev: You saved the day, thank you!
Petri Saarikko: Of course, but when Jung and Freud were discussing sociological archetypes, they were suggesting something else. I mean, if you fold a leaf in the forest and eat it, you can’t really share that experience through language, you have to show it. How could we create an artform that doesn’t exist. We want to know how far can we go… I think Tino Sehgal went some way towards this, but not far enough.
Stine Marie Jacobsen: European governments should admit that they are censoring their people. All: To governmental honesty… Skål! Fagot Koroviev: Sasha and Petri, you’re looking at traditional Latvian folk practices. Is there an idealistic position you’re talking about in relation to the past and to folk tradition. What does tradition mean, as you are framing it, in relation to our contemporary experience?
Fagot Koroviev: OK, Petri and Sasha and we will finish on your toast. Petri Saarikko: Can we acknowledge the contribution of the cat that lives here in this space, and the birds that have been singing to us?
Sasha Huber, from Switzerland, with Haitian roots, and Petri Saarikko, from Finland, are a visual artist duo living and working in Helsinki, Finland. They have been working and exhibiting both collaboratively and individually around the world since early 2000. In 2011 they initiated an independent art space, Kallio Kunsthalle, based in Helsinki, and in 2016 in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Since 2011, Sasha Huber and Petri Saarikko have been working on the Remedies project. The project explores methods of self-help and medical healing in different geographical and cultural contexts. Remedies has taken different form of expression, such as live performance and video in Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Haiti, Russia, Germany, Tasmania and now in Latvia.
All: To the cats and the birds… Kipis! Stine: ...and to friendship
Special thanks: to the chief curator at RIBOCA, Katerina Gregos. for cat-herding and supplying the vodka; to all of the participating artists for their enthusiasm and energy; to Ioli and Inese at RIBOCA; to the journalist Lema and the editor of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Rebecca Anne Proctor whose contributions were felt but had to be left out of the final edit , sorry; to Alice and Mary at Pelham Communications for the shot glasses! And finaly to Michael Landy and his team for hosting us.
Sasha Huber: I remember I had these two warts; I used the tincture you could get from the pharmacy to burn them off. My grandfather, who is from Haiti, saw this, and said, ‘Oh, no, you should use the white saliva from your tongue before you clean your teeth in the morning’; I did as he instructed and it worked. It’s like animals licking their wounds. So, ten years later, we were on a residency in Sweden, at Million Projects, which was a place built in the ’60s for workers, and which now is inhabited by immigrants; and there are quite a lot of problems with the Swedish population nearby, racism, and so on. We wanted to focus on families and the information that has been passed down from previous generations within each community. Every country represented there had its own traditional remedies. We made a form in five different languages, and asked people about what they knew, and then we made a pictographic, non-verbal archive. Since then, we have been to New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Russia, Haiti, Germany and Tasmania. Every time we went to a different country, to do this project, it has been very different.
Petri Saarikko: The US company Revlon gave groups of medical anthropologists $10 million to seek oral remedies in Amazonian South America, as they wanted to commercialise them. It is true with any sort of practical infusion in nature, once you have patented those plants or seeds you want to use, you can basically occupy that knowledge
The Future in Their Eyes The first two of Darn Thorn's photographic series, Aggiornamento, were shown in Limerick, at EVA International, Ireland's biennial of contemporary art. Emily Watkins discovers how Thorn's developing sequence of large-scale photomurals connects the architectural legacy of the 1960s in Ireland, with the modernisation of the Catholic church, to portray an idealised version of a future Irish society. “The age of nations has passed. Now, unless we wish to perish, we must shake off our old prejudices and build the Earth” 1.
change saw sacred tradition give way to the hysterical modernism of the decade. It’s this idea of a benign paternalistic society, which edifies you morally. This whole modernism thing was an idea of a sanitised and cleaner way of living. It’s impossible to overstate the seismic nature of the shift, because any shift was radical in itself. What, after all, had those interminable Sundays been for if the service was just as good in the language of the people as that of the Church? What justified the hours upon hours in perplexed prayer if the job was served by a service half the length? How could the universal sacramental belief of the church be maintained if an individual priest could now choose from a multitude of new ways to confect it?
It’s like taking something away and saying you haven’t. If all had gone to plan, these photographs wouldn’t need doctoring. As it is, a snippet of a building is transported into the landscape of rolling hills, or a water tower scaled to supernatural proportions, dwarfing a mountain it has never met; the structure seems affronting and unlikely, spectacular and sublime. The colours often don’t relate to the original. Completely artificial. Darn Thorn’s Aggiornamento series is a manifesto for looking backwards by peering into a future that might have been, had things only lined up just so. At the end of the ’60s the Catholic church broke from almost 2,000 years of tradition to implement the Novus Ordo, or ‘new order’. Latin became vernacular; priests turned their faces from the east towards-the-congregation; crucifixion softened into the last supper. The difference between the old and new arrangements has been described, almost architecturally, as a flip from vertical (i.e. from heaven to earth) to horizontal, focusing on a community and their exchange with the celebrant. Viewed from any angle, the
"Confíteor Deo omnipoténti, beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini, beáto Michaéli Archángelo, beáto Ioanni Baptístæ, sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo, ómnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres (tibi, Pater), quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere: [while striking the breast three times] mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa. Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem, beátum Michaélem Archángelum, beátum Ioánnem Baptístam, sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et
Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos, fratres (te, Pater), oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum." 2. Pope Paul VI was the inheritor of a world in which humans had touched the moon, four full years before he was elected to the papacy, in 1963. While there were six more to see out before we walked upon it, the celestial was suddenly, confrontationally, undeniably within reach for the first time in history. The ’60s were swinging and modernisation (the Catholic overhaul was dubbed 'Aggiornamento', which means ‘to bring up to date’) was more a question of necessity than discretion. Nonetheless, it was under Paul’s watchful eye that the policy instituted by his predecessor, John XXIII, was implemented. Around the world, a similar impulse to reform and reframe was taking hold. Communism, modernism and myriad other promises of utopia were springing up left right and centre. 'Join this ashram!' 'Sign up to that meditation course!' 'Inform on your neighbours!' The original promise of heaven was slipping sideways in a new Europe, barely nascent after the death and rebirth of war, and any chance of holding old ground relied on a pretty thorough rebranding – or so it must have seemed to the Catholic inner circle. Post-war, there was this relief, but also this incredible trauma. The 1960s were almost a trauma-response; like, things can never be the same again. It’s utopian, but it’s also a desire to get rid of everything old because it couldn’t be good. After all, it had led to a society that could drop an A-bomb.
'And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.' 3. Vatican II was widely (internally) predicted to be a ‘springtime for Catholicism’. Its gentle (rigorous) reframing would have worshippers beating down the doors of every church: Jews, Anglicans and atheists alike would discard their misguided ways of living and see sense. ‘We’ll throw the doors open and everyone will come in.’ Hey, we’re not so stern! It aimed at being an ecumenical move, to reach out to other Christian faiths, or even outside it [Catholicism]. There are a lot more references to Judaism than we see in the historical Roman liturgy. Anyway, this swelling congregation would need new buildings – not only to accommodate them, but also to manifest the streamlined philosophy they had subscribed to. They couldn’t do it in the old buildings – it just looked weird. These baroque altarpieces – paintings of people clutching their breasts and looking out of the frames – it didn’t work anymore. The overhaul caused some people to freak out and others to be feel really optimistic. Blue sky thinking, you know. It was inevitably going to get better, nothing could go wrong. Sincerely anticipating the flood, the Church prepared.
In Ireland – where Darn Thorn was born and now lives – the wave of innovation was both a tsunami and a ripple. It was so stark here. The Irish don’t move fast when it comes to urban planning. Largely untouched by the bombing that decimated huge swathes of Britain, and historically staunch in its Catholicism, the revolution came late and easy. The resulting space-ship churches and structures-erected-for-the-good-of-society are chief subjects of Thorn’s most recent photography, and so is their failed significance. How alien and odd these things would have looked when they were built. Ireland didn’t really have ’50s modernism; most of the cities were quite 19th century. For a lot of people, the experience was of a spaceship landing in their town or village and being told that it was the centre of their community. When these buildings – idealism incarnate – were erected, they were the manifestation of philosophies (rarely unified, always hopeful) concocted to Solve It All. When modernism meets religion, a particularly weird hybrid emerges. Catholicism on one side, and socialism on the other side; you have a very strange cross-pollination. Both strains of thought aspire to impact society on such a grand scale as to transform it. It’s this idea of a benign paternalistic society, which edifies you morally. This whole modernism thing was an idea of a sanitised and cleaner way of living. After all, water towers and churches have more in common than meets the eye. Each operates as a network of
conduits for public sanitation, be it spiritual or physical, governed by a central authority. The state collects water (notably, perhaps, from the heavens) and redistributes it for the sake of public health through a system of underground and unseen infrastructure, made by the Office of Public Works. The Church uses external ritual – baptism, Eucharist – to transmit an invisible health of soul to the individual, all facilitated by a network of believers and run by an institutional bureaucracy. On the one hand, tradition and innovation seem repellent bedfellows, on the other, their shared scope of ambition makes them easy companions. Today, the buildings birthed in this Catholic renaissance are largely underpopulated, or repurposed. You have this kind of hysterical attempt to join the modern world and be acceptable. But, fundamentally, something just didn’t fit with the old faith; the springtime never happened. You have these buildings that have been empty, or halfempty, since the ’70s or ’80s. The year a plant is about to die, it makes more flowers than any other summer. That idea of the monolith, this gnomic thing, which doesn’t reveal itself but has a presence, which gives you a lack of information but symbolises something... The buildings don’t operate to describe what they are. They don’t operate to give you, as a viewer, a historical context for them. They just operate as a symbol of an idea. It’s a future that is impossible, and it’s a past as well.
Thorn moves these monuments to organised or secular faith into landscapes both barren and sublime. The background for that one is mountains in County Waterford. The church is actually in central Dublin. It’s a bit like rewriting history, burning the books to ensure an archive fits the thesis. There’s a similar reconstruction going on in my processing the images, which are shot on monochrome film and then digitally recoloured in post production. The media of the time – black and white photography – was synonymous with the documentary image. The future in their eyes was going to have the beauty and drama of, say, mountains, but it was also going to have to be altered. It would have to be chemically influenced by some radiation or energy that was going to change it beyond what we would know. If aggiornamento had taken hold, he seems to suggest, these structures would have popped up in every corner of the land; as it didn’t, he counters, they might as well have been built on a rocky and inaccessible hillside. The foreground and subject of each work in this series comes from one place and their setting from another, in a move not unlike the application of one lens onto another experience, which saw revolution rise and fall, again and again, 60 years ago. The series isn’t completed. Rebranding society, or its religion, might feel like the only rational response to change on a tectonic level; but perhaps, in the midst of chaos and destruction, one can’t overstate the importance of consistency. Children love
routine, and it’s no huge surprise that we never outgrow the desire to know where we are amidst the whirling. The sweet sincerity of a proposal with our shared engagement and satisfaction at its heart is hard to disavow. If only this church stood upon that hill, or that water tower at the heart of this valley. Then we would be happy. It would be unthinkable.
1. Human Energy, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1955),
English translation published by Collins 1969 2. from the Mass of the Catechumens; gloria.tv/ article/GTHN8RK83Lfv1wBLmMSsU2tXY 3. Trust in the Slow Work of God, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-oftheilhard-de-chardin darnthorn.com eva.ie
first spread Aggiornamento # 1, Darn Thorn, 2016, giclee print, dimensions variable second spread Aggiornamento # 2, Darn Thorn, 2016, giclee print, dimensions variable third spread Aggiornamento # 3, Darn Thorn, 2018, giclee print, dimensions variable current spread Aggiornamento # 4, Darn Thorn, 2018, giclee print, dimensions variable
Incidental City Nathanial Rackowe’s sculptural works respond to the layers of the city, using a material vernacular more usally associated with the brutal architecture of unloved urban spaces. Cameras in hand, Rackowe and Ric Bower took a walk through the darkened streets of Beirut, to put the artist’s exhibition in context. Making art in and for public space is not a strange proposition, well not in an environment that is relatively uncontested. Modern Beirut, however, does not have a tradition of such activity. There are no funders, poised to pay the artist, the fabricators and the installers, should one place an artist’s work in a public space; no pots of money to recompense the government officials and police, who may or may not have been inconvenienced in the process of procuring the plethora of necessary permissions. For Letitia Gallery to undertake the commissioning, (and financing of), not one but two such public works, in this city, in conjunction with a gallery show, is without precedent. One of the public works, LP46 (2018), unveiled in conjunction with the gallery show, was conceived and fabricated in Beirut. It references the brutally functional and crudely constructed anti-parking contraptions particular to the city. The artist both imagines these humble, incidental devices on an industrial scale, and he imbues them with a surreal aesthetic, which supposes a strangeness of purpose that passing citizens could only guess at. Perhaps future modes of transport, unencumbered by gravity, would be deterred from levitating in the vicinity of LP46. The work is bolted and cabled on to the lip of a busy road intersection; it forces its presence on the drivers who weave chaotically past it. Rackowe’s practice is a meditative reflection of the city he is working in; he embarks on a considered process of reduction, a quest to expose the base vernacular of the urban environment. In 2009, he spent two months living and undertaking a residency in Beirut, so the city is not strange to him. Rackowe obsessively fetishises the crude functionality of the city’s fabric, finding within it the undiscovered aesthetic that exists purely for its own sake. CMUs (concrete masonry units) form the skeleton of Beirut, a city devastated by 15 years of the civil war between 1976 and 1990. CMUs, perhaps formed of FBA (fluorosilicate-based admixture), possess properties in relation to their load-bearing capacity and their thermal conductivity; they have no aesthetic other than that which is incidentally defined by their function. Rackowe’s sculptures, inspired by this material and their functional forms, come to land in Letitia’s gallery space, becoming illuminated shrines to the CMU, and grand altarpieces of GRP (glass reinforced plastic). Beirut itself is a phoenix, a miracle of reconstruction, permanently illuminated in a glow of artificial lighting; this is never more apparent than walking through the city at night. As we walk together, I ask the artist to talk about his obsession with cities in general.
Nathaniel Rackowe: I’m picking the city apart – random bits of street furniture, functional structures and materials. You can see it where we’re walking, the difference between the space that is privately owned, and the space that forms the part of the ‘uncared for city’; the contrast between the perfect stretches of paving and then the pot holes, and pavements that end without warning. I love the hoardings that stretch around building sites, (they vary from city to city). Steel uprights with panels between them; a tilted bit at the top, where there’ll either be the Lebanese flag, or some other brightly painted colours. I feel the language of these temporary structures; they form more organically than the ‘deliberate city’, they are not so considered. Ric Bower: Can you describe what we’re looking at now? NB: A billboard with an advert for some crazy-expensive watch; but then there is the monumental support structure. It is enormous, because it’s designed to be seen from a moving car; as a pedestrian, you barely see the advertisement, all you see is this hulking, sculptural form. RB: And what are those beams it’s made of? NB: They are steel I-beams; we’re next to the sea, so there will be high winds that come on shore. The support structure needs to be very strong as the hoarding is basically a sail. RB: Beirut, in the ’80s was pretty much a by-word for a city that was in utter devastation. What awareness do you have of that time, and its legacy? NB: I have developed an awareness by talking to people here – people who lived through it – I have begun to understand that you can read that history in the fabric of the city. I hope that, as we walk up here, we’ll see some of the old French-style villas; not everything was razed during the war. You have the partly destroyed buildings, then the new ones right next to them; Beirut is like a heavily layered fabric. RB: The city is dominated by this artificial light. Tell me about the lighting that you use in your work. NB: The choice of the lights in my works reflects the use of light in the city. Some is fluorescent tubing, some neon, some LED, and then there are the metal halide lamps. These are essentially arc lamps – one of the brightest light sources available and similar to the ones in front of
that hoarding we looked at – they will be powered by a particularly heavy ballast, (transformer); they require a massive voltage to power them. If you take a metal halide lamp, and you look at it through a welding mask, you can actually see the arc of the electricity going through the metal halide gas... again though, like the structures themselves, with lighting, I’m more drawn to the incidental light sources. RB: In your exhibition, at Letitia Gallery, you’ve many different kinds of CMU or concrete block objects. which have been specifically designed to receive pressure, while at the same time, being as light as possible. The form they project into the world is entirely dictated by these two functional concerns. NB: And they are never meant to be seen; they form the base skeleton of the buildings we see. As we walk past some of these partially constructed high rise blocks, you’ll see the raw and workaday manner in which they’ve been constructed; they are thrown together at top speed, and then they are faced in presentable, aesthetically pleasing, respectable materials. Peeling back layers, cutting into materials, exposing a structure is what I do. Gordon Matta Clark demonstrated that all kinds of space can be deconstructed. He famously cut a cone of negative space into the middle of a building in New York, in the ’70s [Conical Intersect, 1975]. So, here we are at the old Holiday Inn, the famous one. It was abandoned – half constructed – and then used as one of the many snipers’ nests in the war. It’s too expensive to pull down and remains a bullet-riddled shell, a monument to the war. RB: You are inscribing a new narrative, a palimpsest, across the modernism that first inspired you, There is something more human about your manner of engagement with materials than that of Dan Flavin, or Donald Judd, for example. NB: When I was studying, I was completely in awe of Minimalism, and other modernist thinking. It really resonated for me, in its pure use of material, space. I remember, even before I was at college, being in the garden, when I was young, and there was this stack of paving slabs my step-father had left out. I leaned and, balanced them, moving the slabs to create self-supporting structures. There was a need to understand space by manipulating structure, even before I went to college and learnt to formalise the process. Where we are walking now is quite close to where I had my studio, back in 2009, by the way. RB: There is a luscious quality to paint, as a material, that lusciousness forms part of the romantic ideal associated with being a painter, with being an artist. When you go into a builders’ merchant, do you have an intuitive connection with the materials of your practice, the concrete, the GRP, the steel bar? NB: I do, yes, and I tend to forget their function, and why they are there. The builders are looking at the same materials, selecting ones for their work, and I’m aware that I’m thinking about the materials in an expanded sense, a purpose beyond their intended function. RB: So, you now have public sculpture in two places in Beirut, a city that doesn’t really do public sculpture. One of the works, Black Shed Expanded, has travelled around the world I understand? NB: It was originally made to show in Paris, a commission for a public space … Oh, this is really great, look, can you make out these arches, the LED strip there, I need to photograph it… RB: Is there any sensitivity about taking photos here in Beirut? NB: Yeah, I’ve had to have long conversations with people to explain what I’m doing... So, Black Shed Expanded, it went to various different locations after Paris – Parasol Unit, in London, they had it out the back on their terrace for about three months. It was at Canary Wharf for a while, then at the Gherkin as part of Sculpture
in the City, then Denmark, Perth, Dubai, and now it’s here in Beirut. Oh, and it has a sister version, which is very similar, and is currently in Tasmania… [a passerby approaches and Nathaniel addresses him], 'Hi there, yeah, we’re artists, taking photographs of the beautiful light…'
and walking, taking some photographs, it’s interesting at night – the light, less traffic…
Passerby: What are you shooting for? Is that a…?
RB: …..You talk about writing a new vision for a city as a whole, and you mention you’re very much into sci-fi. How do those mesh together?
[they exchange details, passerby goes]...
RB: ….It’s a Sigma DP2 Quattro, a strange camera, the chip is made up of a number of layers of silicon.
NB: You get contrasting approaches; so there’s the classic one with, say, Blade Runner –the dystopian future, the recognisable city that is tearing itself apart, but is punctuated by screens and advertising. The city in Blade Runner, though, it’s pretty much Bangkok. The Skytrain is an elevated monorail; it looks very futuristic, and you step out of its perfect bubble environment, then you go down to street level, where it’s just this mad throng of stalls, people selling pirated DVDs, and there are amazing looking people; it’s exactly the chaotic city that is portrayed in Blade Runner. I am interested in the contrasts that this kind of city holds. And then there’s the other sort of sci-fi, like Iain M Banks Culture novels, which present a seemingly utopian veneer… Where are we? I don’t know where we are, but I know we want to be going vaguely uphill… So, sci-fi can also describe something quite hopeful about the future of cities as well; but I think there’s an aesthetic that is described both in films and books – the use of movement, colour, technology, form – that I feed on, a retro sci-fi, maybe.
Passerby: You’re an artist? NB: Yes, I’ve a show in Hamra, at Letitia Gallery, sculpture and painting, it opens tomorrow. Passerby: I work as a second assistant cameraman, cinematic film cameras. I hate still photography! NB: Why? Passerby: I don’t know, I just love moving pictures, the film industry is big in Beirut. So you came here from the UK to see his show? RB: Yes, I’m a journalist, covering Nathaniel’s show.. NB: Yeah, my work is about the city, light and materials; we’re talking
RB: So, you’re looking at earlier visions of the future that have actually being surpassed now? NB: I often employ familiar touchstones as an entry point, so they’ll feel familiar because we’ve seen them on screen… Oh, look, we’re about to meet the anti-parking structures. These small, welded together I-V structures were the source, in part, for the other public work in Beirut. With this functional street furniture, the decisions that were made in their design, the ones that dictated its form, are long lost. RB: They are incidental objects. NB: Yes, what I like to do is show people stuff that they know already so well, but they’ve never stopped to consider. RB: Does this incidental vernacular change radically between cities? NB: It does change, it’s interesting trying to find commonalities though, because there are
elements that are shared. In my petrol station paintings, I’ve stripped off the branding and the forms that seem to be particular; I’ve sought a universal elementality, one that is essentially a sculptural urban invention. RB: There is an element of what you do that is speculative construction: sticking things together, creating systems, spaces, contraptions, almost like in a computer game.
NB: I loved the video game Tomb Raider, and of course the movie that inspired it, Raiders of the Lost Ark – the kinetic environments and the shifting puzzles, where the ceilings come down and the walls come towards you. That sculpture of mine where the grid of lights come down, I don’t know how many artists would reference Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom from that, but it is in there somewhere. Space, structure and
movement, creating environments that breed an awareness of movement, of physicality. I am looking for the roots of the city.
The Shape of a City, Nathaniel Rackowe is showing at Letitia Gallery until 25 August 2018 letitiagallerybeirut.com
spreads one to three: (various works), The Shape of a City, Nathaniel Rackowe, 2018, glass re-enforced plastic sheeting, folded galvanised steel, white fluorescent lights and cement blocks; courtesy the artist and Letitia Gallery current spread, left page: LP46, (instalation view), Nathaniel Rackowe, 2018, steel, light, paint; courtesy the artist and Letitia Gallery current page, right spread: Black Shed Expanded, (instalation view), Nathaniel Rackowe, 2018, wood, paint, light; courtesy the artist and Letitia Gallery
Space : Movement : Place : Pause Kim Norton and Gail Mahon are two artists showing at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Carmarthen, as part of the collaborative exhibition Haptic/Tacit: In Search of the Vernacular. Pairs of artists have been brought together to form a collective, working to use the human scale of contemporary craft to provide a fresh perspective on aspects of vernacular architecture. Norton and Mahon gave CCQ access to their working process, as they navigate the implications of working collaboratively over the geographical distances between London, Northern Ireland, and Carmarthen in West Wales. Kim Norton: initial ideas for Haptic/Tacit work with Gail Mahon Architectural built environment • Space and place • Objects in space • Placement of objects How the body moves through a space or round/with objects. ‘Space is freedom, place is security.’ (Space and Place, Yi-Fu Tuan)
‘If space… allows movement, then place is pause; each pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed into place.’ (Space and Place, Yi-Fu Tuan)
Shared pinterest board (https://uk.pinterest.com/kimnortondesign/ haptictacit-architecture-builtenvironmentcollabo/) ‘Human lives are a dialectical movement between shelter and venture, attachment and freedom.’ (Space and Place, Yi-Fu Tuan)
Could: • one of us make work around place and the other around space…. where both pieces of work come together based around these two ideas? • we work collaboratively to create one piece of work? ‘Vernacular architecture is an architectural style that is designed based on local needs, availability of construction materials and reflecting local traditions. At least originally, vernacular architecture did not use formally-schooled architects,
but relied on the design skills and tradition of local builders.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Vernacular_architecture)
We could look at elements of vernacular architecture, particularly areas around making skills, and methods and materials (https://uk.pinterest.com/kimnortondesign/ vernacular-architecture/) ‘The vernacular is not about appearance but about presence.' https://www.carusostjohn.com/text/ el-sentimento-de-las-cosas/.
Do we touch upon phenomenology here? Or approach this from the perspective of the embodied human? Reading list: Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan (1977) The Object, ed Antony Hudek (2014) Materiality, ed Petra Lange-Berndt (2014) Buildings Without Architects, John May (2010) The Feeling of Things, Adam Caruso (2008)
Gail Mahon: Response to initial ideas Yes to nearly everything you suggested, from reading this, I feel are we are looking to work big scale… Think this is a great starting point: Space allows movement Place enables pause + experience and being To add to the ideas: Vernacular structures and tents/pods/shelters, temporary structures (nomadic), with skin, structures and systems that incorporate peoples/bodies and movement over surface or land. Temporary living and movement, or pause, and multiple layers of skins/uses/ inhabitants of place over time.
current spread, left hand page: Early drawings, temporary structures Kim Norton, 2018
Remote or urban spaces/places ask for different things… maybe we need to select somewhere or a concept to pin our ideas to.
right hand page: Structure models, Gail Mahon, 2018
Interested in aligning people and spaces, suggestion of the way we live/places/spaces shape us materially, in as much as we shape the materials we make our houses with. So ‘vernacular’ architecture is perfect – people/materials/spaces. The activities of tying/tethering/ropes/tensions in assemblages – spatial tension – remind me of German architect Frei Otto (http://www.uncubemagazine.com/ magazine-33-15508949.html - !/page6) Wrapping structures: Christo & Jean Claude. (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christo) Could have lovely tension between earth building and membranes and tethers. Sculpting spaces and creating light and dark, both subterranean and up trees. The possibility of dismissing ground level completely… above and below? Bunkers/ tree houses? Could set up a range of video experiments to exchange as dialogues between us as a project – where we respond to each other’s experiments – image/models/actions on video. A project that's always interested me: Michael Wolfe’s Bastard Chairs series (2013 – ) in the back streets of China – random photo series documenting placement of seating, showing found objects/materials and resourcefulness. (http://photomichaelwolf.com/ - bastardchairs/1) (http://photomichaelwolf.com/ - informalseating-arrangements/17) Shelters in architecture removed from norms of home-owning, non-settled, or nomadic peoples. Questions: • We would need to ask in what way is the shelter occurring within the work, and what we are intending to achieve by looking at vernacular architecture? • Are we investigating war-displacement/ migration/borders? • Are we offering a space/opportunity for solitude? To raise issues? Or look more closely at a specific case study and work in response to data in anthropology, or body studies, or phenomenology?
current spread, both pages: Explorations in form and structure, constructed from five sections of 12oz canvas sewn together to make a simple rectangular shape; folded in half and pinned down the back to create an enclosed space, Kim Norton, 2018
How do we want to make people feel, or what understanding are they to take away from the work?
Reading list: I have also been reading Materiality (brilliant); The Scatter: Sculpture as Leftover, B Fer, in Part Object Part Sculpture (ed H Molesworth) – relates to CAAKE project I've been working on The Body – Key Concepts, Lisa Blackman (2008) – this has opened up some ideas of how we enact as people of materiality and thinking of ourselves as artists in the mix of plurality of ‘being’, with trans-disciplinary influences, which shape our responses, perceptions and actions.; Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art & Architecture, Tim Ingold (2013) YouTube lectures: Training the Senses: Tim Ingold - Knowing the Body https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=OCCOkQMHTG4 Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945) – tacit knowledge, assemblage and correspondence; 'art povera' – as defined http://www.tate.org. uk/art/art-terms/a/arte-povera ‘The aspirations of those who would isolate art from the social world are analogous to those of Kant’s dove, which dreamed of how much freer its flight could be if only were released from the resistance of the air. If we are to learn any lesson from the history of the past fifty years of art, it is surely that an art unattached to the social world is free to go anywhere, but that it has nowhere to go.’ (Situational Aesthetics: Selected Writings, Victor Burgin (2009)
Kim Norton: response to Gail Mahon Working score: lots to think about here! When working spatially, I normally lean towards phenomenology. Points of contact/tethers/pulling/securing/ tension/anchor points to hold the structure. What I’m thinking about/focusing on, in images above, are the spaces in between; solid vs. light and airy [see images on first spread, left hand page]
You mentioned dismissing ground level, or above and below – this is interesting as I often explore solid forms, structures that are rooted to the space, depicting weight and density. This is very much approaching the work from a material bias. Tethers and membranes – immediately make me think about the work of Pina Bausch ...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si… (2012) (http://www.culturekiosque.com/dance/ reviews/pbcomo_pbocca625.html) Visceral : Raw : Physical : Physicality (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=y_2jgGa4KZw) 'Your fragility is also your strength' (Pina Bausch)
Cantolevers and balance, playing with the illusion of structure and space, much like Richard Serra’s work. (https://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/ richard-serra--october-11-2014-2)
Returning to the Michael Wolf’s Bastard Chairs and informal seating arrangements: The function of the chair: to sit : to rest : to work : to pause The chair can be considered an object that is rooted within place. The chair can be our anchor to place as pause • • •
Space as movement Movement to stand Motion
The body changes position in both of these short statements: • •
Space as movement Place as pause
Questions: • Do we have two pieces of work here? • Could they exist in one space together? • Would they need to be separated? • Maybe we divide the space using forms of shelter or cover, so they interconnect. Shelters in architecture, removed from norms of home owning non-settled or nomadic peoples...
current spread, left hand page, from top: Material tests, Kim Norton, 2018
Structures and forms I’m thinking about are: temporary structures, makeshift shelters, simple solution.
Soil tests, Kim Norton, 2018 Unfired material tests drying, Gail Mahon, 2018
See: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 at the Barbican, June 2016: temporary structures built from found materials.
right hand page: Structural poles under construction, Gail Mahon, 2018
Notes from: phone conversation between Kim Norton and Gail Mahon reviewing project Questions to ask ourselves: • What is the intention for the work/ collaboration in reference to the vernacular? • Where is this created? Before the show? • Is it the documentation of our activity elsewhere/in another location, with the recreation of structure in the space….? • Who creates which part? • When is our timeline for collaboration? Show? Install? • How do we want to make people feel/ think when engaging with the work? • Why space/place, pause and movement? Why is this important to address? • What if – alternatives? • So what, why is this significant? • What next for our meeting in London?
Email notes: Turkish shepherd (https://www.pinterest.com/ pin/65865213276217270 Photographer: H.Bohmer) ‘A kepenek is a Turkish traditional shepherd's outer garment. It is a sleeveless, buttonless garment made of felt, worn on the shoulders and covering the whole body from shoulders down. It is made of three parts: one for the back and two (the same as the back, cut in half along the length) for the front. The parts are stitched together along the shoulder lines and all the way down.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepenek)
current spread, left hand page: top: London and Welsh soil on canvas, tests, Kim Norton bottom: soil sample, Kim Norton
Done many renditions exploring form and structure. Constructed from five sections of 12oz canvas sewn together to make a simple rectangular shape. Folded in half and pinned down the back to create an enclosed space.
right hand page: Form and structure explorations interactions, Gail Mahon
Note: we could use any spare overhang to fold back in on itself to create a floor covering. Most tests carried out have been suspended by utilising the two main poles running along the top – it’s an easier way to create draping and the illusion of a softer less formally constructed space. Examples of top coverings [see images, spread 2]: 1. folding upwards, creating a similar silhouette to the kepenek 2. inverted, with the back loosely closed allowing some light to filter in. The back could be simply pinned, drawing attention the temporal nature of such a space.
Larger models: 1.2m x 2.74m constructed from 9oz canvas We have already agreed on 10m long – I’m thinking the width of the canvas measuring 2.74m will be ample, but further tests will fully answer that question… The gallery ceiling is approx. 4m in height. I’m thinking the work doesn’t need to be that high. If it’s too high, may be in danger of losing an element of intimacy or intrigue.
Finer details: Exposed stitching on inside or outside? Mixed them up on the test pieces, it will allow us to fold in any direction without questioning whether it’s hanging on the correct side. Used a canvas backdrop to create a more coherent space. The structure is simply made up of two sides and a top covering created by folds, draping, with the poles making up the frame. I still think that the main form should be pulled out from a corner, or use the corner space as the main point of contact. Accidently stitched the corner together on one, but I think there’s something that makes it work in much the same way we were gathering and tying corners together.
Heavy draping on one side. The opposite side is slightly elevated from the ground. Soil samples, collected from three different locations across Wales, London and Ireland. These geographical locations relate to where the work is being made and located. Geological makeup of place. What sits beneath us and what goes unnoticed. Soil collected from South East London SE6, from Bally Kelly, Ireland and from Carmarthen.
A 5m wall space for latex covings, once applied to the surface it can be removed having created an exact skin-like replica and mirrors the final size of canvas. Test clay dug up from Bally Kelly in Northern Ireland, to begin exploring: the material makeup for the structural poles and scaffolding. Unfired test drying, made from clay and local clay: testing material behaviour and strength. [images on third spread] Form and structure explorations: small spaces; claustrophobic; human scale; nomadic; transient; movement; the body; body studies; emotional response. What are we taking from the work? [see images this page] ‘There is something venerable about the nomad, moving across the surface of the planet with no need to take possession of it...! In this sense architecture is not a ‘thing’ but a temporary state of being.’ (A Nomad Among Builders, Michael Auping, in Nature, ed Jeffrey Kastner (1987)
Kim Norton and Gail Mahon are two artists working collaboratively as part of exhibition Haptic/ Tacit: In Search of the Vernacular, showing at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Carmarthen 28 July – 13 October 2018. The other pairs of artists are Jane Cairns / David Gates; Grant Aston / Henry Pim; Kimberley Chandler / Mark Cousins orielmyrddingallery.co.uk kimnorton.co.uk gailmahon.com
On the cutting floor Hari Shankar Kishore, otherwise known as HVAD, works across myriad disciplines: DJ, performance and visual artist and maker of experimental electronic music, Kishore met Sam Perry during Copenhagen Art Week, where an exhibition – Kommunal Dubplate Service – brought together the Danish artist’s designs, artwork, performance imagery, ephemera, recordings from his Dubplate Service and even elements of his recording studio. When a record’s cut, the music is embodied in the grooves that remain on the plane of plastic, later given voice through a sound system via a needle. What is cut out, fine fabric threads of plastic, dropped to the floor and swept away to the corners of the cutting room, are the unembodied negative spaces of music – soundlessly, the opposite of music. People’s refuse is worth a lot these days – not as individual items, but a collective mass of something made from nothing, is an alchemy of things. The woollen fabric of acetate from the cutting floor of the room where we’re sat, in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, has been gradually given form over ten years, by Hari Shankar Kishore, and presented within a glass bell jar at the centre of the latest major exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art / Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde, Denmark. The exhibition Kommunal Dubplate Service celebrates a decade of what is, presumably, the world’s only municipal dubplate-cutting workshop. It has recently gained a partner cutting studio in Cairo, Egypt, and gives this first-time visitor to the city, an introduction to the studio’s unique story of inversion, subversion and subterfuge. I meet Kishore behind of the tall, graffitied façade of Kapevej 44, a community centre and culture house set back from the leafy street. The studio, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the initiative of Kishore – DJ, activist and long-standing protagonist of the Danish underground electronic music scene. The walls of the studio tell a story of mixing, cutting, composing and laboratorising. It continues to provide a hub for both electronic expression and analogue craft in Copenhagen; and, on this late afternoon, the sun shoots stark horizontal light through the wide windows onto the floor, illuminating the walls and the immense amount of Kishore’s visual stimuli hanging on them.
Sam Perry: Let’s start with this building, what kind of place is it and what led to Kommunal Dubplate Service being set up here? Hari Shankar Kishore: This is an old school, owned by the Municipality of Copenhagen. It’s a big house with a lot of activity, everything from food and dancing, cultural activities, political activities, parent’s groups, right through to music studios. I started this studio because I had been coming to the Kapevej 44 a lot, and I was playing and DJing here, whilst releasing my own music, and usually, if I wanted to get my record masters cut, I would always go abroad to London or Berlin. That ritual of getting music transferred to a plate is something very special, and I really enjoyed being present at that moment. To cut a master plate, which is a plate for the production of vinyl, is different from making a dubplate, which follows the same procedure of being cut, but is not massproduced – there’s just one made. Basically, I wanted this cutting ritual to be available here in Copenhagen, and when I asked the former boss of the Kapevej 44, he was very open to the idea. We just kind of started from there, and got funding to buy the first cutter. This first cutter was actually already in Copenhagen, but it was broken. We got it fixed, and that is the kind of cutter that’s in the museum [Centre for Contemporary Art] now – not the l same cutter, but the same model, because the actual cutter is in Cairo right now, in our sister studio Cairo Dubplate Service, which we started in 2012. SP: Can you say more about the cutter? HSK: It’s a very simple, small lathe that you can place on a record player. We would take big sheets of bulletproof plastic and cut records on these – that is what I started with. And now, you see, there is a different kind of machine in the studio, which is about 500 times bigger. I got it about four years ago; it has many advantages for cutting a higher number of master plates. This studio has been here now for ten years and anyone who
wants to cut a record, or have a master record for production, can come in and do exactly that.
has been evolving since the opening; I have brought in new works, and new pictures will continue to come, and new records etc. The space will also be used throughout the show as a performative space. The videos will likely change; it’s like the Internet, where you can take something down and put something up – I’m still using the space. I really enjoy working like this because I’ve learned a lot about what I do and why I do it, working intuitively and emotionally, putting work in this kind of space and looking at it from another perspective, from the outside – it has been super healthy.
SP: There’s a sense of democratisation of the cutting process here. When I was younger, playing in bands, I can’t remember ever having the chance to cut my own records. HSK: There are actually a lot of cutting houses in the UK, and it’s possible to attend the cutting; but I think the difference here is that is a joint venture with the Kapelvej 44. It’s not a classic commercial mastering studio, and we also do a lot of experiments here. Half of the room is for cutting and the other half is for production and experiments with different things.
SP: It’s also an interesting new context for your work, compared with the usual performance space, I mean, it’s actually quite posh isn’t it? The town (Roskilde) is quite posh and venue is quite... posh.
SP: Tell me about the exhibition. I often wonder what the dominant issues or challenges are in translating this kind of activity into a gallery format, how you tell this story…
HSK: Yeah, that room in the museum actually has direct connections with the church where the entire royal family is buried – there’s a whole room for the Queen, for example. I felt, on the day of the opening, it was a kind of victory day in some respects. My father cried when he saw me there. It is very posh, yes, and it’s also something else.
HSK: There are always challenges in capturing beauty, in either moments or issues, but basically this my first exhibition. I’ve been playing and performing for quite some time now, around the world and especially here in Denmark, and I also wanted to have an alternative space – to the club space, the festival space, dark basements – to kind of express myself, and to have an opportunity to collect everything together. But, yeah, it was definitely an issue to find, to select, to gather everything up; to be fair, it’s not everything, just a selection. Also, the exhibition
SP: One of the ‘nicer’ pieces in the show, if I can use that word, is the collection of very fine plastic offcuts from your record-cutting process, in a glass bell jar. They resemble to me something like wool. Is that process of collecting a conscious one? HSK: In that jar is the opposite of what the music is basically, the stuff
first spread left hand page: Hari Shankar Kishore (HVAD) first spread, right hand page from top: Hari Shankar Kishore (HVAD) duotone still from the video Pandit Handwork, animation by Casper Øbro Hari Shankar Kishore in Kommunal Dubplate Service at Kapelvej 44; photo: Sathya Rojas Hari Shankar Kishore in Kommunal Dubplate Service at Kapelvej 44; photo: Magnus Kaslov current spread: Detail of the installation Hari Shankar Kishore, Kommunal Dubplate Service, 2008-2018. photo: Magnus Kaslov final spread: Hari Shankar Kishore (HVAD).; photo: Niels Fabæk
that always comes out when you cut the groove – the negative space. I’ve been collecting this material for quite some years; sometimes it goes down the vacuum cleaner or out of the window, but basically it’s negative music from over the past ten years. I’ve collected it actually for this kind of purpose; I felt that there was something in it.
gang; I say ‘gang’, because it was more than just a record label [Syg Nok]. So your coming across both of us is probably not a coincidence. SP: I'm come from a part of the world where major institutions don't necessarily tend to show works from radical underground electronic musicians. Is this a big deal for the likes of Goodiepal, making very visible shows in art museums, and now you’ve been invited to exhibit in this kind of arena, is this a big deal? Were you surprised to be asked?
SP: You described the kind of plastic you often cut with as being ‘bulletproof’; did you mean this literally?
HSK: For me it’s a big deal, and another landmark for my work. I had been thinking about doing an exhibition for some time. I felt there was stuff that needed to be shown in another kind of place from the usual club space, which is only really half the story, it's also not always appropriate. It's a Museum of Contemporary Art, and music is art. I've been making art for quite some time now so, in that respect, it’s not such a surprise. On the other hand, I'm very grateful to be able to share this space in the museum with people, family, kids that I've been an inspiration to, and see them in that space.
HSK: Yeah, the first kind of records I cut here were these transparent plates that were used to make bulletproof plastic. You probably saw some in the exhibition. It's not vinyl; vinyl's mostly used for mass production, rather than these dubplates; it's another kind of plastic I use for cutting. And this is what you see in the glass jar in the exhibition, a kind of acetate. SP: It’s my first time in Denmark, and I’ve been wondering how it is that my way into the contemporary art scene here has been through the underground electronic music scene, via you and Goodiepal [Parl Kristian Bjørn Vester, Danish/Faroese musician/composer].
SP: Have you performed there, at the museum? HSK: The best part has been to play some of the tunes in that room; I mean, the music is why I’m there, and it was the sound of victory, actually. That was maybe the most harmonic thing I would say about the show. For years, I have played in front of people who are in total ecstasy, but I’ve also played in front of people who I feel at total war with, people who want to fight me or burn my stuff, cut up my cables
HSK: Goodiepal and I are super-related, we're a family. I mean, the first records that I made, not the dubplates but the master plates I cut, were with Goodiepal, when he invited me to a cutting house in London. It was with him that I first experienced the ritual of cutting a master lacquer. His approach was very much an inspiration. We later became part of the same
during a performance, steal my instruments, shout racial slurs while I've been playing, these kinds of things. So to actually play in this space was a really harmonic thing, and one of the better moments in my life.
Throughout the late summer months, the sedate surroundings of the museum will vibrate gently to the harmony of tour guides and groups meandering through, rubbing up against the soundless results of an extensive period of countercultural activity. Hari Shankar Kishore’s journey to arrive at this point in his career seems a glorious battle in many ways; it has been a turbulent route taking in an, at times, hostile club scene, and national Danish television chat shows, where he has had to defend himself and his practice. His strategy however has served him will in the face of hackneyed views on radical music making. Kommunal Dubplate Service goes some way to undermine mainstream expectations of where activism and music sit in the broader landscape of things, and has taken Kishore to the unusual meeting point between underground radical artist and art museum.
SP: What happens when everybody in Copenhagen comes to you to cut a record? You seem to give serious consideration to the material we produce in life. How do you please everybody? HSK: I’m very aware that cutting a dubplate isn’t a service that everybody needs. I grew up with a lot of records around me and enjoyed manipulating records with the needle as a kid, but I’m aware this isn’t something that’s going to save the world. However, I have the perspective that if you want to save something, save your material, I mean, when you can’t turn your hard drive or whatever on in 70 years, these records will be able to be played even then, you can even play them without electricity.
HVAD – Kommunal Dubplate Service is at the Museet for Samtidskunt (Museum of Contemporary Art), Copenhagen to 09 September 2018
Outside the museum, a group of visitors to Roskilde surround their tour guide in an attentive semi-circle. In the low sun, the guide is describing the smaller, emblematic details of the building’s outer decor with elaborate language.
The Lanuggae N.S. Harsha’s new exhibition, acing at the Glynn Vivian in Swansea, can be read on many levels. Visually beautiful, the installations and delicate watercolours draw the viewer into a darker social commentary. Poet Nia Davies responds to Harsha’s imagery – real and imagined – for a special commission.
Facing poem facing
[ancestor languages feeling their way into our mouths as ghosts] [sounds passing through people: poem-making] [the best thing to do is make a capacious studio inside your own body] [a trilling] [or a crab, set over another person’s face] [or a madrigal for an elephant] [elephants emerging from a language cosmos] [cosmos of language ghosts and language bodies]
A charming symbol
A line of trees felled for road improvements at Alexandra Road, Swansea A line of trees felled by Amey plc contractors at Russlings Road, Sheffield A tree sliced in the day by an unknown executioner at Chamundi Hill, Mysore A tree sliced in the night by an unknown vandal at West Cross, Swansea 5.77% of the southern Western Ghats felled in the last decade 1 “It is not possible to compensate [the] loss of a natural forest, at least for centuries,” Ajay Kumar Saxena, Delhi A cut tree stump may resemble a mandala or the cosmos or a cross section of an organ or an ecosystem, a lost world, a world to come
3. Velocity Once you are falling out of the sky – or running down a meadowy slope – to halt abruptly takes an unnaturally forceful energy. To use momentum, to use gravity, to fold into a natural rhythm // GO WITH IT ‘Language: science of force and velocity.’ N.S. Harsha
All week the symbol of the bull made itself felt, reoccurring wherever I went. a.
The Mithraeum, a temple to the god Mithras, under the City of London, is not big enough to sacrifice a bull in, but for sure this was a site of TAUROCTONY
The bulls are running in Pamplona. I can only think of the gang rapists La Manada, recently cleared by judges of rape and convicted on lesser charges for ‘non-violent’ sexual abuse. I think of how regularly women in Spain are protesting this.
It was Ariadne’s thread that led Theseus to the Minotaur
d. Nandi, sacred bull, can be found half way down (or up?) Chamundi Hill, Mysore, anointed, blessed. These red steps Harsha climbs, two to three times a week. Two to three times a week I run on Swansea beach. e.
Harsha looked at the cow cells under the microscope: dusty seeds, pods, the consistency of tallow.
Opening a book of Garcia Lorca’s poems to immediately find this line ‘El Toro de la reyerta/ se sube por las paredes...’ 2
Often the bull takes up the whole inner space of a temple
Oh! I am told by an astrologer, you have your true node in Taurus!
Europa riding the white bull, Europa the goddess in love, Europa lending her name to a landmass, a people
Later, when I speak with Harsha, I realise that the bull is not actually so present in his work. I brought it up. Some symbols are convenient, some are not. The Kangaroo, for example, is a symbol Harsha has tried to liberate, but it is not convenient. A new symbol has caught his mirth, donkeys giving birth. Everywhere!
Mereology: the study of the relationship between the part and the whole
In a ritual, or in theatre, the spectators and the performers form a community – the individual merges into a group. But only for a brief moment! And then dissolution. When I am writing, it often feels as if every part is continuous with the whole, like painting, like energies connecting, like a tree on this road and a forest in Karnataka, or Europa’s continent, the solar system, the relationship of the bull cell to the cosmos. I have to be careful of this feeling. If every part is connected to every whole, there is no stopping a forceful velocity; there is a possibility of losing Ariadne’s thread. And missing your stop on the bus.
‘Too much mesh, too much writing without completion, too much writing-that-is- never-writing: reproduces: the boundarylessness that is also migration. A stressor, you could say, for non-being.’ 3 Bhanu Kapil
6. Transit The ever multiplying steps! We do not care to name the daily practice of step-climbing, beach-running. Is it exercise, is it ritual, is it devotion…? Something repeated and repeated with small differences every time. Some things that have travelled: - - - - - - - - - - - -
Chai / Panad Macaulay’s Minute on Education Large floating buoys / large floating Buddhas Language, the perfect instrument of empire, said the bishop to Queen Isabella Lanuggae, the perfect undermining of empire. Or an under-MINING Teak elephants carved by an elephant-carving family from Harsha’s brother’s housebeams Face, FACING The yogis, multiplying On the beach, burning our chakras from screaming Howdah – the container atop a war elephant. Also, Kannada word for ‘is it?’ ‘really?’ in Kannada The tale of the tail of the monkeys The clown who challenged the unconscious (when life laughed at art)
‘Can shadows die for limbed animals?’ 4
What would a shadowless limb be? What would a limbless animal be? What would a dead shadow feel like, especially in the mouth? What would the Kangaroo do without a shadow? ‘The world has tired itself thinking it has buried all shadows’ Allama Prabhu
T.V. Ramachandra, associate faculty, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said: “Our study shows dense forest areas in northern, central and southern Western Ghats have decreased by 2.84%, 4.38% and 5.77% respectively over the last decade.” 2 Gabriel García Lorca, 'Reyerta'. And:'Juan Antonia’s body is full of iris!' ('...Juan Antonio el de Montilla/ rueda muerto la pendiente/ su cuerpo lleno de lirios/ y una Granada en las sienes.’) 3 Bhanu Kapil, an interview with Stephanie Luczajko in TINGE magazine: http://www.tingemagazine. org/an-interview-with-bhanu-kapi/ 4 Allama Prabhu, Vachana 459, Trans. A.K. Ramanujan acing N.S. Harsha, is at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea until 9 September 2018. A collaboration between Glynn Vivian and Artes Mundi, acing is part of #IndiaWales, a major season of artistic collaboration between the two countries to mark the UK-India Year of Culture. Generously supported by the British Council, Wales Arts International, and by Mollart Engineering Limited swansea.gov.uk/glynnvivian glynnviviangallery.org (coming) artesmundi.org victoria-miro.com
first spread: left to right acing, N.S. Harsha, 2018, installation view, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas acing, N.S. Harsha, 2018, installation view, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas In the chain of consumption, N.S. Harsha, 2012, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas When life laughts at art, N.S Harsha, 2008, mage courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas second spread: clockwise from top left En route to arms laying down ceremony! N.S. Harsha, 2012, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo Mallikarjun Katakol Coming out of forest, laying down arms for dignity and honour! N.S. Harsha, 2012, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/ Venice, photo: Mallikarjun Katakol She sold her cow and started squeezing magenta into her farm! N.S. Harsha, 2012, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Mallikarjun Katakol Peeping into levitating black hole!, N.S. Harsha, 2012, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. photo: Mallikarjun Katakol third spread: left to right Skygazers, N.S. Harsha, 2010). Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. Photo: Polly Thomas Skygazers, N.S. Harsha, 2010, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas Being Here and Now, N.S. Harsha, 2014, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/ Venice, photo: Stephen White acing, N.S. Harsha, 2018, installation view, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas. urrent spread: top to bottom acing, N.S. Harsha, 2018, installation view, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas. Reclaiming the inner space, N.S. Harsha, 2017, image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London/Venice, photo: Polly Thomas.
Sanguine, but not Complacent Curated by artist Luc Tuymans for Antwerp’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Sanguine/ Bloedrood raises interesting questions about combining historical, modern and contemporary work in an exhibition. Liese Van Der Watt talked to the exhibition’s curator about violence, why Jan Van Eyck was an ardent motherfucker, and about museums’ need to create relevance for their collections. The title activates the tension; an ever-so-slight slippage in translation from Sanguine to Bloedrood. The former may have its Latin roots in the word for blood, but the colour sanguine today is less fresh red blood than dried blood. As an adjective, it describes a quality less intensely passionate, more blandly optimistic and positive than Hippocrates’ idea of the sanguine humour; also, it is the name of a drawing technique, in a red-brown chalk, especially popular for its softness and warmth. The intensity of blood red is softened, almost lost in the translation. This small friction – the inability of one term to equate fully with the other, while being simultaneously implicated in the other’s history – is not simply a matter of semantics; rather, it is a leitmotif that runs through this exhibition, curated around the notion of the Baroque. As it twists and kinks over centuries, continents, styles, attitudes and politics, the concept of 'Baroque' shifts and disperses into myriad directions, synthesising ultimately in the viewer’s mind. Asked to curate an exhibition for a city-wide campaign, Antwerp Baroque 2018, Rubens inspires, Luc Tuymans thought not of Rubens – that most famous resident of Antwerp, that great artist, intellect and influential diplomat of the Counter-Reformation and the Baroque – but of violence; the violence of that historical period in the name of religion, and the resurfacing of violence in the name of religion, in our own times. Two works immediately came to Tuymans’ mind. The first is Caravaggio’s David with the head of Goliath (1609-10), said to contain a last self-portrait of Caravaggio, depicting a scene of such graphic violence that Tuymans describes it as, ‘the only Old Master [Painting] that comes close to the beheadings of Isis on the Internet’. Typical of Caravaggio, the scene is bathed in dramatic chiaroscuro, powerfully directing the viewer’s gaze over the picture, encouraging constant movement of the eye over the darker areas and around the composition, to take in the strong reds of the bloody head, the gleam of the sword and David’s face and torso. The second work is Edward and Nancy Kienholz’s installation, Five Man Stud, depicting the castration of a black man in the American South,
after he was accused of having ‘relations’ with a white woman. The work was made for Documenta 5, in 1972, and then disappeared into a Japanese collection for 40 years, resurfacing a couple of years ago, in Los Angeles, bought by the Fondazione Prada in Milan, where Tuymans saw it. For Sanguine /Bloedrood Tuymans has re-installed it in Antwerp, in its original 1972 form. In a domed tent that stages the work like a diorama, the action taking place in the middle with five cars parked around the periphery, their headlights illuminating the action, as if on a stage under spotlights. The viewer is able to stay in the darkness and watch passively from the shadows and the edge of the work, or is able to walk into the light and hence into the violence. To step into this tent is to be not only a part of an ongoing racial nightmare, but also to be inside the Baroque – a bodily immersion in chiaroscuro and the cinematographic animation of so many Baroque works – and to be encircled, literally, by the round forms and concentric lines so typical of this style.
A loan of Caravaggio’s David could not be secured for this exhibition and it remains in the Villa Borghese in Rome, (a reproduction is projected onto the Museum’s façade at night), but Tuymans managed to get two other Caravaggio’s – the Flagellation of Christ (1607-08) and the earlier Boy bitten by a lizard (1596-97). Both show Caravaggio’s dark dramatic best, but it is The Flagellation, along with Kienholz’s work, which really anchor this exhibition conceptually. Echoing the roundness of Kienholz’s domed tent outside the museum, Tuymans has installed the Flagellation of Christ at one end of the museum, in a round room, painted black, a sombre space, like the inside of a Catholic church. The Flagellation enacts the impact of the Baroque par excellence – all dark and light drama on a de-focalised, all-over surface, blood red and strong colours and expressive faces twisted in agony over the very real physical body of Christ. The Caravaggio is flanked by a range of works that converse with it
in terms of form, theme and colour, all spotlit in this dim space, as if the entire room is a Baroque work. Next to Caravaggio is a stunning video work by Dominik Lejman, Harnessed Swimmer (2009), showing just that – a harnessed swimmer, viewed from the top, looped in an endless struggle to swim in a murky sheath of light. Further down the curve of the wall is Franciszo de Zubarán’s The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (ca. 1650-1655), the contortions of his pained body echoed in two splendid 18th century sculptures of Johann Pinsel’s in the Baroque Rococo style (echoed, in turn by, Nadia Naveau’s overthe-top composite sculptures elsewhere in the exhibition). Everything in this black room seems to converge and then dissipate in a large kaleidoscopic sculpture by Carla Arocha and Stéphane Schraenen – Circa Tabac (2007) – mirrored broken planes and shifting lines permanently defocalise everything that
is reflected in it, creating a literal Baroque aesthetic. It’s as if the entire exhibition leads towards this theatrical space, willing the eye to see visual connections and the brain to make conceptual parallels. I ask Luc Tuymans about this clear curatorial strategy, which directs the viewer where to look and what to see. His directorial eye continues to impose parallels. For instance, when I enter the next room, I am struck by the theme of death as an inevitability in On Kawara’s Date Paintings (finite time, measured in dates), next to a grid of his black and white Thanatophanies, intimately real portraits of death, juxtaposed with Belinda de Bruyckere’s In Flanders Fields (2000), where the broken and wretched shapes, which seem horse-like, alienate us even more precisely for not being horses exactly. Even without the baroque lighting, used so
liberally before, in the glaring white light of the modern art institution, these works speak dramatically of utter violence and of final death. The skill of the Thanatophanies resonates with Michaël Borremans exquisite still Sleeper (2008) in another room, placed between two studies of heads by Anthony Van Dyck from the 17th century, willing us to see parallels, certainly in terms of form and skill, and I search obediently, but not quite convinced, for baroque equivalences in all these portraits. Is Tuymans using art to instruct, sometimes exaggerating parallels, to guide or even manipulate the viewer to pick up visual cues and conceptual correspondences over historical periods, where only tenuous links may exist? Is this not a form of curatorial didacticism, in fact quite similar to how the Counter-Reformation used the Baroque to manipulate its viewers?
Luc Tuymans: No, I don’t think my curatorial strategy is didactic in that sense, but it is delivered from an unapologetically visual point of view and it comes from a certain visual passion. As an artist, I don’t deliver an exhibition from an art historical point of view, as a curator might do. And I don’t believe in doing over-didactic shows, with wall-texts that underestimate the viewer and narrow-down interpretations. You should never underestimate, nor overestimate, your viewer. Viewers should go into the show as active participants, constructing meaning, and should come out with different interpretations. This is why we have just a very basic wall text at the start, no catalogues, just a floorplan. There is also no specific route in the exhibition – viewers can take it in any way they want. But having said that, the visual is powerful and I deliberately put the video work of Venezuelan Javier Téllez, The Lion of Caracas (2002), which is set to the overpowering and haunting soundtrack of Venezuelan composer José Angel Lamas’s Popule Meus (1801), at the beginning of the show. There is no way to escape from the emotion the music and the image bring. When my wife [the artist Carla Arocha, mentioned above, also from Venezuela] and I saw this work in 2004, in Mexico City, we cried because this work carries the premonition of the downfall of an entire country. But even if you don’t know the context, because of the way it is presented here – the black room, the frontality of the lion, the corridor-like space, the overpowering music – people will look at it in a completely different way. In my opinion, this work is especially Baroque because of the remarkable impact it has.
for me, as an artist, to curate shows in institutions, because it at least allows me some critical expression that can hopefully have an effect on the viewer. LVDW: So, does this mean you think art should be political? LT: I don’t think art can be politics, but art can have a political stance at a given moment – we don’t want art to be politics, like propaganda. The ambiguity of the artwork creates a zone in which people can make their own decisions, but with that
Liese Van Der Watt: Do you think this kind of strong and impactful art – let’s call it ‘baroque’ – has the power and potential to change people and perceptions? LT: Art still has this potential to bring change, but within an institutional framework. In former days, art used to fight against institutions, now it is about saving institutions and the cultural heritage that goes with it. We need these institutions, but they have less money and less capacity and are increasingly put in a corner by the art market, which has become so globalised and dominating, sequestering artists like myself. The art world has become like an overblown machine, it’s about branding and PR, and this is why noncommercial institutions, paid for by public money, are important. They have a social responsibility. And this is why it is important
ambiguity comes a certain responsibility and this is becoming more difficult. Through the influence of social media, people are increasingly living in their own bubbles. This is in direct contradiction to the original ambitions of the Internet to open the world up. But, in my mind, art has a clear and definite purpose to resist this populism. Even though I come from a low social denominator and have worked myself up and am not elitist in any way, [and here Tuymans proceeds to tell me about his years as a bouncer and how he can still call the right people to make a problem go away…] I do think art should
first spread: In Flanders Fields, Berlinde De Bruyckere, 2000, installation, horse skin, polyester, metal, plastic, blankets, variable dimensions, second spread, left page: Saint John the Baptist, Johann Georg Pinsel, 1758, wood polychrome, 176 x 125 x 79 cm second spread, right page: Sleeper, Michael Borremans, 2008, oil on canvas, 40.0 x 50.0 cm; courtesy Zeno X Gallery Antwerp third spread, left page: Five Car Stud (installation view), Edward & Nancy Kienholz, 1969, installation, courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York third spread, right page: Fanciullo Morso da un ramarro (Boy Bitten by a Lizard), Caravaggio, 1594, oil on canvas, 65 x 52 cm current spread, left page: The Flagellation of Christ, Caravaggio, 1607, oil on canvas, 263 x 213 cm current spread, right page: Five Car Stud (installation detail), Edward & Nancy Kienholz, 1969, installation, courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York
work against this populism, should create ambiguity and layers. I thought that if you can counter this populism with something else that was also populist in its time – the Baroque – you can perhaps turn this game around. This is a museum of contemporary art, lots of people do not come to these institutions, but if there is a Rubens or a Van Dyck, people may reconsider, instead of just looking at this institution as an elitist space. LVDW: But is this not in itself a form of populism, to use Old Masters as a kind of drawing card to get footfall into the white cube of the modern art museum? Do you think this strategy brings anything new? And don’t you think ‘Baroque’ becomes a catchall term – so vague that it loses meaning? LT: Including the Old Masters was a given, part of the brief. But I didn’t want to use Rubens, as was the expectation – he is brilliant, but I am less drawn to that flamboyant, formulaic style. Anyway, if you ask me about the greatest Belgian artists, I will have to say it was Jan Van Eyck, rather than Rubens; he understood the power of the individual and image-making and heightened realism in such an unforgiving way (he was such an ardent motherfucker). Rubens, however, is devoid of psychological drama, it is all mythology, and I am far more drawn to the dramatic and the cruel and the severe
– Caravaggio, Velasquez, Subaran. I wanted Caravaggio as a counterpoint to Rubens – he was a dilettante, forgotten for a long time and, unlike Rubens, worked on his own. In the contemporary there are various connections, some vague, but still they are there. The Immolation series of David Tretiakoff (2016), which depict violent scenes from Gaza, burnt into banners with cigarettes, reminds me of the monumental yet intimate violence that Caravaggio reproduces. Or take an artist like Pascale Marthine Tayou, who invokes a world that is the flip side of the world order that Rubens’s exemplified. His City to City (2018) [house-like structures hanging from the ceiling covered in African textiles] refers to poverty and migration from the erstwhile colonies – colonisation started, of course, in the time of the Baroque, and Tayou wants us all to take responsibility for these global villages that exist in our Western cities. So no, I don’t think ‘Baroque’ is just a catchy title, a meaningless heading. Juxtaposing Old Masters with contemporary works under this rubric makes viewers active – they have to think and look for their own interpretations. This makes this exhibition more than just entertainment. ***
Having been trained to read against the grain, forever alerted to resistant analyses, I leave Antwerp thinking not about the light of the Baroque, but about those shadows. ‘What would you have done?’ asked Nancy Kienholz at the opening, addressing viewers who choose to remain passively among the peripheral shadows in the Kienholz installation. I recall an article I read about Belgium’s high yield of jihadists. The mayor of Molenbeek, the area where many of them hailed from, said that people in Molenbeek tend to get on well: ‘But that’s maybe what has fooled us… next to that, there are people living in the shadow. And we have left them living in the shadow. We didn’t ask ourselves the right questions.’ It strikes me that the concept of the Baroque is perhaps most useful as an approach, a working method to alert us not simply to light, but to its opposite – those dark impenetrable shadows that hover on the peripheries. Read that way, Baroque ultimately offers a brilliant epithet for our times. Sanguine/Bloedrood, conceived by Luc Tuymans for the M HKA (Museum of Modern Art Antwerp) and Fondazione Prada, is on show at M HKA in Antwerp until September 16. A modified version of the exhibition will open at the Fondazione Prada in Milan in October 2018. muhka.be
I Abandoned the Things that I Loved the Most Veteran Brazilian artist Anna Bella Geiger visited Brussels earlier this year, for the opening of her exhibition Circa MMXVIII Human Landscape at Mendes Wood DM. She spoke to Ric Bower about her own creative development during Brazil’s string of military dictatorships and how these external factors necessitated a paradigmatic shift in her practice in the late 1960s. Anna Bella Geiger was born in Rio de Janeiro, in 1933, to Polish immigrant parents. Her early career spans the second half of the 20th century, a time that will be remembered for many things, peace and love not being among them. In the early 1950s, Geiger attended the artist and educator Fayga Ostrower’s free classes in drawing and painting in Rio; she went on to find early success for her brand of Informal Abstraction, taking part in the I Exposição Nacional de Arte Abstrata (First Exhibition of Abstract Art) in 1953, in Brazil. After the rise of the dictatorship in Brazil, in 1964, Geiger changed her approach completely. Her subsequent Visceral Phase was marked by a radical eclecticism, both in the materials she employed and in the subjects she chose to address. She sought ‘common life’ through her explorations of the human body and her cartographic reflections on the nation of Brazil. From the 1970s, she was a pioneer of nascent genre video art and, at the same time, was also working with every imaginable traditional and non-traditional material available to her. To completely change one’s creative approach as an artist is not without precedent; Raphael famously reinvented himself, when he was exposed to the works of Fra Bartolommeo and Michelangelo; although radical, such a change was incremental rather than apocalyptic, in that the change became logically necessary to pursue the answer to a question the artist had always been asking. By contrast, Anna Bella Geiger’s shift in approach, in the late 1960s, was paradigmatic. She had been successful in her quest to develop her informal abstraction, in the context of Brazilian modernism, in the late 1950s and early ’60s, she had been fated to succeed. Her paradigm shift, or ‘Turn’, as it has become known, came not from any dissatisfaction with what she had done up to that point, but from the knowledge that the purely formal concerns of her modernist approach failed to engage with the weight of her own lived experience. When, on 01 April 1964, a coup d’état, led by the Armed Forces against the administration of the President João Goulart, took place and ushered in nearly 21 years of military rule, she knew she had to sacrifice the purity of her practice. She replaced it with a restless and tangled process of searching, which encompassed a multitude of media and approaches; a condition of permanent flux, in which there would no longer be a clear and comfortable separation between her creative practice and that of her own life as a woman, as a mother of four children, and as a citizen of Brazil. Since the 1950s, Geiger has been exhibiting, teaching and publishing constantly; she has taken part in nine editions of the São Paulo Biennial, and been included in numerous other biennials, group shows and international surveys of Brazilian art. In 1987, she published a major work, which documented the context of her own roots in Brazilian abstraction, Abstraccionismo geométrico e informal: a vanguadia brasiliera nos anos cinquenta (Informel and Geometric Abstraction: The Brazilian Avant-Garde of the 1950s).
I met Geiger in Brussels, at the opening of her show at Mendes Wood DM, a gallery that focuses on the work of Brazilian artists. At the age of 85, and in spite of having just travelled 9,500km, she was both enigmatic and vivacious as we engaged in conversation. Ric Bower: It strikes me that oppression is never general, it is always particular, and it leaves you with a series of choices: to lie down and look away, or to stand up and resist; to talk, or to remain silent. Can you tell me something of your own experience in the 1960s, in Brazil, as the country was subjugated by a series of fascist dictatorships. Anna Bella Geiger: On 31 March 1964, I looked out of my window and I could see tanks. There was a feeling, amongst those of us who were on the political left, that it would not be easy, but we did not think the new regime would be that interested in our activities as artists and thinkers. Pedro Geiger, my husband, is a Marxist geographer, but he was not politically active — in the sense of belonging to any party. Then, one Saturday afternoon, there was a tap, tap, tap at the door and four men with guns came into the house. They arrested him, telling us that if we had taken a minute longer to answer the door they would have broken it down. In the end he was only locked up for a few days, but I thought they were going to kill him. After they arrested Pedro, they arrested a journalist and killed him, hanging him from a window to make it look like suicide; the message to us on the political left was very clear. The worst thing about the whole incident was guessing who had denounced him. As a result of his research, Pedro determined the modern geography of Brazil as being divided into three geo-economic regions, which was a radical break from how it had been seen up to then. He wanted the best for Brazil, and in more than just a theoretical sense. He was personally present in the slums, while undertaking a project to renew the favela – bairro. The trouble was that he was influential in the institute in which he was teaching, and people listened to him, that was what the government and his denouncers did not like. I was terrified, and completely taken up with how I should feed my four children. RB: So did this experience affect your behaviour, as an individual and as an artist? ABG: Yes, of course. In 1968, a group of artists, including myself, chose to boycott the São Paulo Biennial because Costa de Silva and his government had committed some particularly violent acts in Brazil. Turning down this opportunity for exposure was a huge sacrifice to us as young artists. RB: And did you have the support of the broader Brazilian society when you did this?
ABG: Nobody cared about cultural matters. The middle classes, with their bad taste and lack of knowledge in art, were very happy with the status quo that came out the coup. The country was superficially peaceful, but many people were very unhappy of course. These political situations are always highly complex; they can’t be reduced down to a statement, which is what happens in the work of so many so-called ‘activist’ artists. RB: How did all this affect your work then; did you respond to these influences in a deliberate way, or was it more intuitive? ABG: It was both. I had studied Art in the ’50s, and became an artist of the movement known as Informal Abstraction, taking part in many exhibitions in and out of the country. I loved belonging to the Informal Abstract Art movement and I was very confident in it. In 1962, I had won the prize at Cuba’s
first International Art exhibition, at Casa de las Americas, with my abstract engravings. After 1965, with all the political unrest, I felt a disaster had happened in my thinking. I could no longer justify working in a purely formal manner, it did not speak to the times that I was experiencing. It was also a personal existential crisis I was experiencing, a kind of a lucid schizophrenia; I felt that my work was starting to change. I set out on what has become known as my Fase Visceral, or Visceral Phase, between 1965 and 1969. In the atelier of the museum, some of the artists would whisper, ‘I don’t know what has happened to Anna Bella, she is only working with blood red ink’. I started making maps of the inner body, looking at books of anatomy for reference, placing organs of the body, defining masculine and feminine body parts. RB: So you felt, as an artist, you had a responsibility to the troubled times you were
living in and the formal modernist approach you were so familiar and confident with – indeed the approach you loved – did not address this responsibility? ABG: Yes, I knew I had to abandon the thing I loved most. I had in my memory a poem by Fernando Pessoa1 É o tempo da travessia... E se não ousarmos fazê-la... Teremos ficado... Para sempre... À margem de nós mesmos... (It is the time for the crossing... And if we don’t dare to do it now… We will have been… Forever… At the margin of ourselves…) RB: You were switching freely between media in the 1970s, at a time when modernism demanded specialisation from its acolytes.
Indeed you have been working with a great number of materials over the course of your career. What is it that draws you to open a dialogue with a particular material and then what causes you to move on from it?
I began to think of Marcel Duchamp, not as an activist, nor even as an artist, but as an alchemist, and I realised that I too was engaged in this 'process of alchemy', transforming the materials I came across into something else. I was never particularly concerned in the materials of art for their own sake.
ABG: When putting together ideas, certain necessities reveal themselves.
RB: Were your parents supportive of your decision to become an artist? RB: So your concern for materials is primarily pragmatic? ABG: I started making art in 1949, I was quite young. My parents were very worried, they wondered how I was going to make a living – making money from art was almost impossible in Rio at the time. They pressed me to study at the University, but I knew I could never go to the School of Beaux Arts, because of the overtly fascist reactionary teaching there at the time. I might have considered architecture, but I have difficulty with mathematics, so I decided to go to the Faculdade Nacional de Filosofia, to study Anglo-Germanic languages. This was an endeavour, not only to get in – for the entrance test was hard – but because it was five years of very hard study. The range of subjects we studied was extensive, but I particularly became interested in linguistics and phonetics…
ABG: In part. To give you an example of this, I started to give classes in 1969, at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro. I took the students out of the museum space and into the garbage filled wasteland in the immediate vicinity of the museum site – we used what was there to make work, we were rigorous in our pragmatism I suppose. Then one of my students said he had a car and offered to take us all to that faraway lagoon of Marapendi2. It was still totally desert, as in the time of the Indians; from then on, we would go there twice a week and stay the whole day. I did not tell my students what to do because I myself did not know yet. The only thing I told them is that they had the land, the earth and the water from the lagoon and to bring a shovel and a rake! At the time I had been reading some old French books on alchemy and became interested in its symbolism – as an idea and as a process.
RB: ...which can be seen in your work.
ABG: Yes, I did start to use words in my work, but not until the ’70s. I was particularly entranced by One and Three Chairs, (1965) by Joseph Kosuth; he brought semiotics directly into his practice; he was already writing about art and language, at the end of the sixties; (and semiotics was a subject I had studied extensively at the Faculdade, but still in the ’50s).
had bought some of my drawings in New York. There was quite a lot of interest in them at that time. When my parents finally insisted, I came back to Rio though. When I boarded the ship to come home, I was almost starving, and that is no exaggeration.
RB: And then you went to New York…
ABG: I met him in the street in Rio in ’55. I was all dressed up, heading to the university campus, (I had returned to my studies there,) and he was coming out of the Institute of Geography, which was nearby. He said, ‘hello’, and after that he would not leave me alone. It was not harassing, it’s just a carioca – a way to get attention. I was so alone and unhappy at that moment, when I got back from New York. Pedro is of Jewish Palestinian origin; his family had immigrated to Brazil to escape extreme poverty in the ’20s; my parents had come from Poland at around the same time.
RB: How did you meet your husband?
ABG: Yes, I did. Well, I was quite unhappy at the Faculdade and looking for a way to get away. The opportunity finally came through a German intellectual, called Hannah Levy Deinhart (1912-1984), who had come as a refugee to Rio in the ’40s. I met her because Fayga Ostrower, my teacher, was a student of hers still in the ’40s, in Rio de Janeiro. Later on, Hannah Levy went to New York to teach at NYU and the Metropolitan Museum and at the New School for Social Research; she set up a department called the Sociology of Art. I persuaded my teacher, Fayga, to write to Hanna Levy on my behalf. As a result of that letter, I stayed in North America for almost three years, studying under her. To make a living in the summers, I would do art workshops with youngsters in Niagara, at the Canadian side. I also exhibited for the first time in a solo show at the Eglinton Gallery, in Toronto. The famous photographer of the Korean War and documenter of Picasso, David Douglas Duncan,
RB: Is your making of maps as much to do with you defining your own identity as it is positing a national identity? ABG: I was looking closely at cartography, as a subject, in both political and ideological terms. When it comes to national identity there are other factors to consider. My father was Polish Jewish, but he was not
religious, he was a socialist; my mother was not religious either, so I went to a non-Jewish School. In fact the area we lived in was full of German Nazis at that time; Brazil sided with the allies as late as 1944. After that, I remember being woken up at night by the voices of police arresting German spies, some of whom were my neighbours. My other neighbours were poor immigrants from Portugal and from Italy. I spent most of my time as a child with these people, it was they with whom I identified. I would go to their houses to eat and to play with their children. The area I lived in was contiguous with the favelas, people, at the time, would make fun of the people there. My own identity is an assimilated one, as you see, and my making of the maps, in part, maybe comes out of imagining what that could mean. RB: What kind of relationship did you have with Fayga Ostrower (1920–2001), your first proper art teacher? ABG: I attended the free classes she gave in drawing, painting and engraving in the ’50s, while I was also at the Faculdade. Her brand of German Figurative Expressionism was a huge influence on me in the early ’50s. Fayga, became internationally recognised as an artist and as a writer too, (although her writing was primarily about the pedagogy of art). Her particular ideas in relation to abstraction came under attack from some critics, coming out of the Neo-Concrete school, in the ’50s and ’60s. I was in New York at the time. She felt deeply hurt by what she saw as the ingratitude of some of her students, the ones that became NeoConcrete. So, when I abandoned abstraction for my Visceral Phase, this created a separation between us. She became very isolated. That made me quite sad to think that I had inadvertently contributed to her isolation, for she was a great teacher to me. RB: The five generals – Humberto Castello Branco, Artur Costa e Silva, Emílio Médici, Ernesto Geisel and João Figueiredo – represented decades of dictatorship in Brazi; what do they represent in your memory and what can we learn from them now? ABG: Yes, there were 21 years of dictatorship. We found out about our limits, and I don’t just mean when we came close to death or, when we got sick of something and gave up on life – and I have been close to that. Not that I ever wanted to give up making art, more that I was giving up to myself. I did a work in 1976, which showed two
first spread, right page: O Tronco (Órgão Ocidental), fase visceral, Anna Bella Geiger, 1967, gravura em metal com doze partes, 80 x 56cm The Trunk (Western Organ), Visceral Phase, Anna Bella Geiger, 1967, Etching (twelve cut pieces), 80 x 56 cm second spread, left and right page: História do Brasil: Little Boys & Girls, Anna Bella Geiger, 1975, série de seis fotocolagens, 22 x 24 cm (cada) História do Brasil: Little Boys & Girls, Anna Bella Geiger, 1975, series of six photocollages, 22 x 24 cm (each) current spread, left page: O Pão Nosso de cada Dia, Anna Bella Geiger, 1978, série de 6 cartões postais e saco de pão, 18 x 12 cm (cada), fotos de Januário Garcia Our Daily Bread, Anna Bella Geiger, 1978, series of 6 postcards and a paper bag, 18 x 12 cm (each), photos by Januário Garcia current spread, right page: Brasil Nativo-Brasil Alienígena, Anna Bella Geiger, 1977, 18 cartões postais, 10 x 15 cm (cada), fotos Luiz Carlos Velho Native Brazil-Alien Brazil, Anna Bella Geiger, 1977, 18 postcards and printed text on card, 10 x 15 cm (each), photos by Luiz Carlos Velho
fourth spread, left page, top: Passagens I, Anna Bella Geiger, 1974, vídeo p&b, 13' Passages I, Anna Bella Geiger, 1974, vídeo p&b, 13' fourth spread, left page, bottom: The Bride met Duchamp before the Bachelors, da série Diário de um artista Brasileiro, Anna Bella Geiger, xerox e fotocolagem p&b de fotografia da artista em seu Casamento, 40 x 30 cm The Bride met Duchamp before the Bachelors, from The Ship's log-book from a Brazilian Artist, Anna Bella Geiger, 1975, xerox and photocollage p&b of the photo the artist on her Wedding Day, 40 x 30 cm fourth spread, right page, top: Local da Ação n.01, Anna Bella Geiger, 1980, gravura em metal, 94.5 x 70cm The Place of the Action, Anna Bella Geiger, 1980, Etching, 94.5 x 70 cm fourth spread, right page, bottom: Fígados Conversando, fase visceral, Anna Bella Geiger, 1968, gravura em metal com cinco partes, 40 x 50 cm Talking Livers, Visceral Phase, Anna Bella Geiger, 1968, Etching (five cut pieces), 40 x 50 cm
very different Brazils, in 18 picture postcards, a native Brazil and an alien Brazil – the native Amazonian Indians are presented in a paradise situation, a construct of the photographer’s making of course. I spent three months analysing and thinking about these comparative truths and started mimicking the images, which I had picked up on the streets of Rio. I would try to be like them, when of course I could never be. For one of the photographic images I made, I presented myself sweeping a doorway in Copacabana Avenue. I was trying to ask what we, urban Brazilians, had in common with the Amazonian Indians and its tribes. I felt that what we had in common was that we were not citizens – none of us, amongst other things, could vote or express our ideas in a public way. Sometimes the comparison between the images is quite deliberate and in others it is more intuitive, a reflection of the moment; we were all lumpen peasants under the weight of the dictatorship. At the time, in 1976, the coup was 12 years old and the regime was still very strong, It would not be over until 1985. RB: You have worked all your life in a society that is heavily patriarchal. How do you approach this difficulty, personally and through your work? ABG: Feminism in Brazil, at that time in particular, was not the force it was elsewhere, in the US for instance. Our minds were fully occupied by the horrors of the immediate political situation. To put it simply, it was a luxury we could not afford.
1 A Portuguese poet (1888-1935). 2 Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro.
The Passenger The day after his performance at EVA International, Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art, Rhiannon Lowe met with artist Sam Keogh to discuss his practice, improvisation and rehearsal vs performance, and the threads in his practice that connect David Bowie, Donald Trump, Steely Dan, Oscar the Grouch and The Old Croghan Man. This year’s EVA International, Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art, in Limerick, took its jumping-off point from the allegorical painting Night’s Candles Are Burnt Out (1927) by Sean Keating. Sam Keogh, whose piece Integrated Mystery House was curated as part of EVA International, works with discordant hallucinatory communication and shifts in time, anecdotal myth-making, and technological breakdown.
the physical body as something that leaks, breaks down, digests or doesn’t digest. These two things get smudged into each other, I think, as a way to make thought physical or haptic. RL: So, a mix of things that are related, but seem very disjointed. SK: Yeah. The characters usually struggle to connect those various things, which produces a lot of anxiety. The first character that I did as a performance, was Oscar the Grouch [from Sesame Street]; I was kind of channelling him. I had subtle costume elements, like an off-white silk, short sleeved t-shirt, with stains on it and black paint on my teeth, so I looked like I didn’t have teeth, similar to a Muppet. I used to do the performance on the street, outside galleries. And the performance would be from a script that describes Oscar through a constellation of cultural, historical and philosophical fragments. That was a script I learned threequarters-by-heart; I wanted it to have holes in it. The texture of the script was close to the texture of Oscar, and there’s a physical struggle to recall the words.
Rhiannon Lowe: Can we start by talking briefly about your piece which was part of DARKWATER: The Dead of Night, programmed in 2017, by Tai Shani and Anne Duffau, at CPG London, in Southwark Park, and give us an idea about how the scripts that form your performances are written and performed? Sam Keogh: Predator Bleached Versace was a performance where I am talking to a semi-figurative sculpture, which looks as though it’s made out of bleached coral. I have a conversation with the figure, but it’s not talking back; it’s a one-way conversation. And the bleached corals are giving me a hard time. There are three costumes I’ve made, one of which is about the bleaching of coral, another about the murder of Gianni Versace
RL: And that’s a natural thing, because you are performing, talking while trying to remember?
RL: Where are you getting the grief from, how is it being fed to you? Or are you imagining it?
SK: Not ‘natural’, because it’s by design. Another similar performance was the one about puke. I don’t know if you have seen any of these on my website?
SK: It’s just me remembering it. The way my performances are, I research around different disparate topics and I kind of jam them into a script form. The function of the script is basically to bring together the different pieces of research and to make them cohere. I write the script to dramatise the content formally, to be able to see it on a page, and to have some material relationship with the ideas – to be able to touch the page, literally, cut it up with scissors, stick it back together. So, the script is used to figure out the order of the different stories and how they might work in relation to one another. Once I understand the order, I don’t need the script anymore, because by that stage I can conversationally recount it.
RL: Only some. In one you had a Go-pro camera, running into a gallery space from upstairs; you had structures that you erected and used that space to perform in. SK: That was a show called Four Fold, in the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin. It was based on an image of a bog body called the Old Croghan Man. The unique thing about that particular bog body is that it doesn’t have a head; it’s only an upper torso. It just looks like a cropped leather jacket, with these perfect hands on the end of the sleeves. The preservation of the skin is really remarkable. It’s also flat; the acidic water of the bog makes bone like rubber, so that the weight of the soil flattens the body. And this makes it look like an image of a body rather than an actual body. The whole performance was around the idea that this body was trying to return to an image of itself. Museologically, it’s interesting how human remains can be ethically shown; and with this one, it’s interesting because traditionally it couldn’t be photographed.
RL: Are the characters that you use and portray in your various performances based on one central character? SK: It’s different in each case. RL: Are there particular traits that follow through, though? SK: I think so – in the main, it’s a struggle to make information into something physical that I can begin to touch or mould into a new form. There is often a tension between what might be understood as cerebral work – thinking, remembering, working through abstract ideas – and
RL: How was it shown? SK: I first saw it when I was about 16, and it was in the middle of the main hall of the museum. It was shown in amongst other items taken
from the bog; the body itself wasn’t identified as more important than anything else. When I tried to take a photograph with a digital camera though, the attendant guy stopped me. I drew a picture of it instead, but afterwards thought, ‘Why can’t I take a photograph of this body that’s like 2,000 years old? How would that body conceptualise the photograph of itself?’ RL: Did the attendant explain? SK: He didn’t. But this was not presented as a rule of the gallery; it was possibly a thing that comes more from Catholicism, the treatment of remains – I don’t know. But now the museum is showing the body in these kind of passage-tomb-esque architectural structures. So, you go into a circle, it’s like two intersecting... or maybe a kind of a spiral… and in the middle is the body. The lights are dim and you are alone with it. It’s quite effective as a device that produces a secularised sense of reverence, or respect, for the artefact. RL: Is it in isolation? SK: There are three of them – circular rooms within a bigger room – and it’s announced to you, before you go in and look at the body, what it is you are about to see. What you see first is the drawing of the body. But they can’t control photography. RL: Is there any animation, or a reconstruction? SK: There is a film of the preservation of the body, which is really strange. There’s an especially memorable scene where the body is being lifted out of a tray of glycerol, the inert synthetic material used to replace the space that the water takes up in a wet artefact. It’s also something used as a synthetic analogue of body fluids, in sex lubes for instance. RL: In your performance, were you having a conversation with yourself, or with the bog body? SK: That one was a version of myself talking to me – not a character. There wasn’t a backstory. There was no fictional context. I am trying to be careful with the words here, as I feel like there is a chance I might be seen to be making plays – I don’t know anything about theatre. RL: I suppose you are using structural elements and building sets; in that sort of way, it’s theatrical. SK: Yeah, and there are elements that are sculptural. RL: But also you expose the construction of what you are showing. You’re not trying to create an illusion, necessarily. And it’s imperfect; in your bog body performance, when parts of the set, as it were, fall down, I love how you scurry around, re-erecting things. You know the way you enter the space at the Douglas Hyde, what made you do that? And the performance yesterday, here at EVA, why do you come in running? SK: I think it’s just the way to take over the whole space from the beginning, and to make the audience aware of themselves; also maybe to make the audience understand the experience won't be one of passive spectatorship. RL: Yesterday, there were elements of the performance that were very
different from your live rehearsal, which we saw the day before. In the performance for real, you drew a lot more attention to the audience, for example. There was also more humour, and more places where you referenced the awkwardness of your situation and what you are trying to construct.
I’m presenting here at EVA, there is a loose history of Silicon Valley’s connection to white supremacy and fascism. So, tonally, that album felt like it fitted – this strange mixture of reactionary politics and sunshine in a place more commonly known for its history of subculture, post-Fordist work environments, laid back attitude etc.
SK: You had the privilege of seeing the very first version of the performance, which was a total flop! The first one is usually shit, because I only really learn what works and what doesn’t by doing a draft in front of an audience. I can feel out its edges and see where its strengths and weaknesses are. When I got to the pub with you all, after the rehearsal, I felt really embarrassed and crestfallen. I didn’t expect that so many people would be there and that some of those people would be basing their reviews off the version they saw! But when it fails the first time, it prompts me to rewrite it better, arrange it and dramatise it to the extent that it’s not embarrassing.
RL: Are you actually listening to the song while you are singing? SK: I wanted to sing it for myself, as though I were in the shower, not really for the audience – more like the singing that is unselfconsciously straining toward singing; singing that sounds really good to me, like I was on X Factor. But you found it moving? RL: Very much. There’s the shift between your knowing that we are there, and what we are to you, and then you losing yourself. It’s similar to when you’re going over and over those bits you want to make sure you mention in the final recording or presentation you’re planning, which you seem to be working out in front of us – they’re like hand holds almost, for a final performance that never happens.
RL: Do you need to feel you’re controlling it? SK: Only to the extent that I don’t panic or freeze in embarrassment… although maybe I should try stepping over that line some time. But I do need to feel as though I have a handle on what it is, and a loose sense of how the audience will react to certain parts. I’m not interested in testing the audience’s capacity for attention, that's why it’s often entertaining – not because I want to be an entertainer, but because I want to work within existing economies of attention, which I myself feel subject to. I’m trying to find out how information can be absorbed through a distracted, fragmented attention state, maybe. But another device I use, in the new works, is addressing the audience as my hallucination, which allows me to engage with them, or ignore them, so they exist only in relation to me – which makes things a lot less scary whilst I’m doing the performance.
SK: It’s a series of false starts, that’s what the whole thing is composed of. RL: I really liked some of the still images that appear when you put the camera down on the floor, they created beautiful filmic stills on the screen, from the live stream. I also enjoyed when you’re mid-flow, and people were trying to keep track of what you’re saying, trying to keep up, and you pause suddenly in the script, and there’s absolute silence. It’s like when your voice is too loud in a bar, and everyone suddenly drops their voice off, and you’re left hanging. Everyone’s attention is brought back again. SK: It’s hard to leave silences; it feels like dead air. But I know that it’s also useful, it makes people engage more, listen to what you’re saying.
RL: I got the impression that you were trying to make the audience part of what you are doing, observing you, almost like a psychiatrist watching a patient. You seem to be struggling with different realities, flitting between them.
RL: It’s also as though someone has interrupted you, reinforcing the idea you had a dual personality, and the other had interrupted you. It made me question again the severity of what you’re saying too. Where has the idea for the piece come from?
SK: What did you think of the song? SK: There are a few different simultaneous feelings that I have at present. One is that things are stuck, there’s a kind of political stasis or stupefaction; and in that stuckness there is a toxic repetition of things – rebirths of reactionary ideas and terrible cycles playing out, over and over again: it’s the dead past coming back. And then there is a temporal confusion where the past, present and the future are feeding on each other at the same time. That’s in a broader atmosphere of complacency, but the ideological grounding that makes that complacency possible, which is liberalism, is being fracked really effectively by very strong fascistic media tactics. I was living in Amsterdam for two years, and it was when Trump was elected. I had a moment where I broke down in tears at the traffic lights. I was on my way to the studio and the world was still functioning, and Obama made that speech about the fact the sun will still rise. But what the fuck did that mean? That the sun would rise, that this is just some blip on the graph where liberal democracy under capitalism continues until the heat-death of the universe?
RL: It was really beautiful. SK: It’s Bowie, Word on a Wing, from Station to Station (1976), which he claimed was a cry for help from a very dark, drug-addled fascination with the occult and fascism. I’ve just been falling into a Bowie vortex, in the last couple of months. He’s always been ambiently present for me, but lately I feel like I’ve discovered him, and I’m needing to find out everything. I’m listening to Station to Station three or four times a day, so much so, that I have this horrible feeling that I’m destroying it, wringing out all of the enjoyment. It’s kind of like, ‘I don’t want to do that, but I need to kill it so it doesn’t have a grip on me any more’. I think it has something to do with the terrible anxiety that runs through the album, and Bowie’s treatment of fascism as pure empty surface. I think he unwittingly made an interesting critique of fascist aesthetics with that album, presenting it as ‘ice masquerading as fire’, and constructing this figure of pantomime decadence in his persona The Thin White Duke, which kind of grew out of the character Bowie played in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). And, within the Integrated Mystery House work
RL: So you made the work when you were on a residency in Amsterdam?
SK: I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in Holland? It can be very racist, really conservative, but in very pernicious ways. It’s liberal, but liberalism accommodates racism, which you can see quite clearly in Holland. That is to say, liberalism individuates the idea of ‘freedom’, says ‘all men are born equal’, but can’t recognise that people aren't born equal if they are born into regimes of systemic violence. I was very lucky to be there at the Rijksakademie, which is a super-generous residency and enabled me to focus on my work for two years. But central Amsterdam, more generally, just felt like a very rich, bourgeois bio-dome, insulated from the world outside, and floating on this strange self-congratulatory smugness about its own liberalness – which is, in turn, floating on a completely un-interrogated relationship to its colonial past. Alain De Botton’s School of Life is very popular there, which should tell you a lot. But, I mean, I was in a good situation, I was on a residency, with a studio, somewhere to live.
from below, with translucent sculptures on it, and a small control panel; and they are all covered in collage. I start in the cryopod but, over the course of the performance, I move around the whole space. And I sing a Steely Dan song, Only A Fool Will Say That. RL: Why Steely Dan? SK: They made lame but technically perfect ‘dad rock’. And perfect pop songs. But the lyrics are usually quite ambiguous and cynical. The song’s supposed to be a critique of the perceived idealism of Dylan and Lennon – its main refrain being, ‘a world become one, of salads and sun, only a fool would say that’. It came out in 1972, which was around the time when the dollar was untethered from the gold standard, the end of the Breton Woods System, and when Neoliberalism was being ushered in, in the wake of the failed countercultural projects of the ’60s. So the song seems to take the view of some dickhead looking down on the whole thing and observing it with this detached cynicism, seeing it all as inevitable. That position now seems tragic to me, or impotent. Or pathetic. It makes me think of gammon, or Jeremy Clarkson’s bootcut jeans; reactionary baby boomer landlords. In that way the song is feeding into the general tone of the rest of the content, and of being lost in space and time, of being stuck in this shit familiar present.
RL: But you had, to an extent, a protected position; one of the things about residencies, you can become so removed. SK: It was a bit like a hermitage situation. The place I was in had a 30ft perimeter fence around it, fortified against the public. It was originally built for the police cavalry, who put down strikes. It has this weird, oppressive history. It’s only open about four or five days a year for visitors. And though there was a kind of community within the institution, I felt very lonely in Amsterdam. I missed my close peers who were in London, and the critical rigour and energy of that community.
RL: Are you going to do more iterations of this character? SK: I think this is going to be it now. I might make a film of it.
RL: The installation that you perform in front of is beautiful, especially with what you’ve done with the lighting; it’s like a haunting, or haunted, edifice. samkeogh.net eva.ie kerlingallery.com
SK: I spent about two and a half weeks building it in the space and, previous to that, a couple of months making the components – they’re mostly dismantled computer parts, just painted white and then kind of dirtied a bit. They’re covered in melted plastic, Kapton tape (that yellow tape that you see used in electronics manufacturing), and sculptures made of acrylic medium and collage. RL: Have you shown that somewhere else? SK: I’ve showed an early version of the performance – the same character in the same context, but different set. It was shown first at the Rijksakademie, in Amsterdam and then, after the residency, at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin. Kapton Cadaverine (2017) happens in the same fictional world of an astronaut, whose cryopod has malfunctioned and has been trapped awake and alone on this empty spaceship for several years. It’s basically the plot of Passengers, with Chris Pratt, but, instead of waking up Jennifer Lawrence, he makes sculpture and collage and talks to a hallucinated audience. The performance includes the character listening to these fragmented diary entries from 2016 – ’17; a kind of personal anecdotal record of things that happened around then. He’s describing the situation, things not functioning, explains he’s been alone there for ages etc. It has a similar stop/start feeling, or a similar device where drafts are being recorded and then re-recorded, always haunted with the idea that they are ‘for posterity’. RL: What will this piece be like in Glasgow?
all spreads: Collage made from documentation of the performance and instalation Integrated Mystery House, made as artist pages for Metropolis M, Sam Keogh, 2018
SK: The set will be a bit different, a cryopod flanked by two semihexagonal walls. There’ll be spaceship furniture, a kind of table that’s lit
An Archive of Longing Ceramicist Zoe Preece’s recent exhibition, Material Presence: A Domestic Scene, explored the unnoticed gaps and voids of domestic life: temporary absences; things left behind; the indentations of family life. A conversation for the opening event, devised by Natasha Mayo, explored Preece’s early encounters with clay, her technical expertise and the roots of her fascination with the lacunae that puncture our daily lives. There is a particular quality of silence in an empty room, especially a family home, when the door slams loudly and voices dissipate along the street. It’s as if the air exhales, released from its constant disruption, constant churning by children running up the stairs and through doorways. For a moment, it is given a reprieve to settle into the spaces left behind, into the nest of a curled up blanket, around the pens separated from their lids on the table, into the half-drunk coffee cup. In such moments, the air can be so palpable, weighted, that if you were to reach out toward an empty chair, you might feel resistance from the memory of its occupant pushing back. It is these moments that Zoe Preece explores in her exhibition Material Presence: a Domestic Scene, at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in Cwmbran, earlier this year. Preece’s use of porcelain slip, like the movement of air, seeps in-between the occupants and their home, creating silhouetted still lifes from the kitchen table. How can you capture sensory experience in an inanimate object? In my gallery conversation with Zoe Preece, here in an edited format for CCQ, we began to explore her processes, motivation and the thinking that’s affected her practice. The quotes, shown here, acted as prompts to shape the conversation.
This particular kiln waster had some glaze that had dripped from another vessel and pooled into the centre of a bowl. What particularly drew me to this object was its status – its function was as a backdrop for the objects being fired – and yet I found it displayed in a glass cabinet in a museum, and the glaze still seemed to be pooling into it, still fluid, and yet I knew it would be hard to touch. It was from this point I began testing out various different fluxes in porcelain clay and firing to different temperatures to find the points of fluidity. Around the same time, I was also collecting lost gloves I came across on the streets. There was one that I found on a road, which had been driven over lots of times, so much so that I had to peel it off the road to pick it up. It was completely misshapen and barely recognisable, and I found myself asking the questions: ‘At what point would this glove be considered more road than glove?’, ‘How many more times would it have to be driven over for this to be so?’, and, ‘Where is the boundary line between the two; where is the point of transition between backdrop and object?’
I want to think of making, instead, as a process of growth. This is to place the maker as a participant in amongst a world of active materials. These materials are what he has to make with and in the process of making he ‘joins forces’ with them, bringing them together or splitting them apart, synthesising and distilling, in anticipation of what might emerge… Far from standing aloof, imposing his designs on a world that is ready and waiting to receive them, the most he can do is intervene in worldly processes that are already going on, and which give rise to the forms of the living world that we see all around us...
Natasha Mayo: Can you describe your very first encounters with porcelain and notions of flux? Zoe Preece: I was first introduced to flux at the beginning of my degree, in Cardiff, during the clay and glaze technology sessions. We learnt about the chemical make-up of clay and glaze, and what makes a glaze become fluid and begin to flow – so, the effects of additional flux and heat. Then, towards the end of my degree, I had an incident/accident, where I must have miscalculated the amount of fluxing ingredient or the kiln temperature, and the result was glaze flowing off the vessel onto the kiln shelf – Jock, the technician at the time, was not happy, but I found myself really taken by the drips that had formed as the glaze flowed off the vessel and then solidified as the kiln cooled. So I suppose really these were my very first ventures into experimentation with flux and fluidity.
(Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture 2013)
NM: So Ingold is talking about an artist entering into a conversation with materials. Is this true of your process? ZP: Ingold’s basic premise, as I understand it, is one of co-existence. So, for example, rather than speaking of a ‘vessel’, we might speak of ‘vessel making’ – the co-existence of our hands, the porcelain clay and the processes of making; rather than speaking of a ‘path’ we might speak of ‘path-making’, the co-existence of our feet, the landscape and the action of walking. When I consider these ideas in relation to the ‘home’, to the domestic realm, it brings me closer to that realm. I become a part of it, rather than just an observer. I am no longer a subject moving around an inanimate space, made up of inanimate objects. The space and the objects take on a vibrancy, an aliveness, a presence. They become more than their function. And I suppose it is this material vibrancy that I explore in my work.
NM: Was it the activity of the fluxing glaze that suggested any given subject matter to you, or did you have an idea of subject and sought out how to use that quality of glaze? ZP: I think it’s both, or all at once. The first assignment on the Ceramic Masters programme at Cardiff was to find an object in a museum that resonated with me. I found a kiln waster in the V&A. I still have an image of it on the wall of my studio! Kiln wasters are used to pack and fill a kiln in order to regulate the movement of heat within the kiln chamber during firing. They are not intended for use beyond that.
The Clusters of four, five or six fruit grow like handfuls from small shoots of the trees’ branches. From a single tree hang hundreds of handfuls... Early one morning I decide to draw a cluster, perhaps to understand better why I repeatedly say ‘handfuls’. (John Berger, Bentos Sketchbook, 2011)
NM: So, the act of writing, drawing, making can be interrogative, framing and re-framing the perspective from which the concrete is viewed. Has the type of conversation you have with the materiality of your home grown with you, or altered as your family has grown? ZP: Yes. While my children were young, the domestic space was much more central, and so naturally the objects and processes that existed in that space held more significance. It was almost the whole world for a while. Now it’s a space I move in and out of. The sounds and movements within it are different. It’s quieter. When the first encounter with some object surprises us, and we judge it to be new and different from what we formerly knew, or from what we supposed that it ought to be, that causes us to wonder and be surprised; and because that may happen before we in any way know whether this object is agreeable to us or not so, it appears to me that wonder is the first of all passions. (Rene Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, 1694)
In order for it [wonder] to affect us, it is necessary and sufficient for it to surprise, to be new, not yet assimilated or disassimilated as known. Still awakening our passion, our appetite, our attraction to that which is not yet (en)coded, our curiosity (but perhaps in all our senses: sight, smell, hearing? etc) vis-à-vis that which we have not yet encountered or made ours. (Luce Irigaray, Wonder from, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, 1993)
NM: Can you describe how those words relate to a work in particular? ZP: I think really these quotes are relevant to all of the works in this exhibition. I did some training, a couple of years ago, with Sasha Wardell, a master in plaster mouldmaking and slip-casting in bone china. During the week I spent with her, I made my first ever bone china teacup from scratch. When that cup came out of the kiln, it honestly seemed to me as if it might be the most wonderful thing I had ever made. From raw materials, through a series of processes, I had fashioned this extremely fine bone china cup. I believe that experience of wonder had something to do with the familiarity I had with a cup – they are ubiquitous objects and yet, then, it was as if I was experiencing the cup for the first time. It’s this experience of wonder that I hope to elicit through my work. I have made domestic objects – a saucepan, a mug, a colander – and I have endeavoured, as much as possible, to replicate the forms of those objects as true to their originals as I can. At the same time, the forms are pared back, they are stripped of colour. I’ve used the single palette of porcelain; they are blemish-free, so the viewer is left with no distraction, just the lines and curves of the form, and the smooth white surface of the porcelain. I wanted there to be that familiarity with the object and at the same unfamiliarity. It’s an endeavour to reintroduce you as viewer to an object you might see and use on a daily basis, and a hope that you might have something of that experience I had when I first made that bone china cup. One of the interesting things for me about ‘wonder’ is this idea of our experiencing something before we have decoded it, before we have categorised it as this or that. It’s that space that I am interested in. The tension between familiarity and unfamiliarity helps create that. It’s a space of creativity – in the widest sense of the word – when we endeavour to suspend what we think we know in order to be able to look again with fresh eyes, as if for the first time. NM: I think your evocative use of materials is essential in creating this space between what is seen and what is felt. Clive Cazeaux accounts for material as being innately metaphoric in four key ways:
1. Material cannot be described without reference to the perceiver (ie. How it relates to them in being sticky/smooth etc) 2. Material, as something that is manipulated in art, acts upon or with other values (the relationship between properties within any given piece or pieces) 3. In handling the material, the handler is also, if not equally, acted upon (its properties and those of the artist relate to one another in the development of ideas) 4. In representational art, the manipulation of materials creates particular effects that call for description in terms drawn from the represented subject (in representation you cannot lose the original connection) NM: Can you talk about your consideration of material as metaphor? ZP: I read a lot. Words are very often catalysts for ideas. I read something by Susan Sontag – I used it as the title for a piece of work – she said, 'My library is an archive of longings'. I particularly liked the way she brought words with very different qualities together. The word ‘archive’ for me conjures ideas of order, of organisation – a systemising of things – and the word ‘longing’ conjures something very different, something much more primal, something wilder and more emotive. A tension exists as these two qualities are brought together. And there is a mirroring here for me in the way I use materials, in the relationship between the refined formal structures of the objects and the transitory moments of flux. NM: How does the incorporation of high technology serve this material metaphor for wonder and flux? ZP: A couple of years ago, I was part of a residency programme, Makers Using Technology, and it was here that I discovered 3D scanning and CNC [Computer Numerical Controlled] milling. I began by scanning surfaces with objects on. The scanner produced these wonderful tableaux and, because it was a relatively low fidelity scanner, there was a blurring effect that was produced in the scans between object and surface. The objects seemed to melt into the surface they were sitting on. I was very taken by the dissolution of boundaries that seemed to be happening.
What became very evident to me, during this process, was the level of nuance that exists within these technologies, no less so than in those processes I use in my studio with clay. The type of drill bit – the speed it spins at and moves across the surface of the wood – plays a part. Referring back to Tim Ingold and his ocean of active materials and our coexistence with those materials, after being milled, the walnut table top began to move and warp quite dramatically. I became painfully aware that the wood I was using was alive and of the newness of my relationship with it. I have a much longer standing relationship with porcelain. I certainly don’t know everything, but I do have an idea of what it might do. I know I have to bring my full attention to it, when making, because it remembers every touch. I know at a certain temperature it will begin to move in the kiln and I can take steps to account for this. I use setters and beds of alumina hydrate. However, even with this understanding, porcelain too is very much alive with its own particular nature. I made 11 colanders before I managed to achieve one without a flaw, post firing. It was a strange process to be engaged in; the line between madness and creativity seemed very thin at times. I found myself questioning what it was I was doing and why. A question that had sat underneath my process throughout this project was, ‘how do you dignify an ordinary life?’ There was something about my persistent attempts, my endeavour to create this blemish-free porcelain colander that seemed to speak to that question.
first spread: An archive of longings (Material Presence), Zoe Preece, 2018, porcelain, flux; photo: Dewi Tenant Lloyd second spread: Cup (Material Presence), details, Zoe Preece, 2018, porcelain, flux; photo: Toril Brancher third spread: The light inside the light (Material Presence), Zoe Preece, 2018, porcelain, flux; photo: Toril Brancher current spread: The way the earth remembers our bodies (Material Presence), Zoe Preece, 2018, CNC milled walnut; photo: Dewi Tenant Lloyd
We think to find ourselves we need to turn inward, examining the intricacies of origin, the shaping forces of personality. But ‘I’ is just as much to be found in the world; looking outward, we experience the one who does the seeing. Say what you see and you experience yourself through your style of seeing. (Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon 2002)
NM: Doty suggests that you can get to know yourself by attending to the ways in which you interact with the world. Can you talk to us about this in relation to the curation of your work; how have you endeavored to guide a viewer’s encounter with it?
ZP: It was important to me that the arrangement of works had the immediate familiarity of a domestic scene. My consideration for the overall curation of these works mirrors the intentions I have for the individual pieces. The gallery space [at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, in Cwmbran] is perfect for this; the building was originally a farmhouse. The table sits in an alcove in the window with a chair. The porcelain objects are in use; they are displayed in arrangements similar to those one might find on a kitchen surface. While the arrangements are disordered and chaotic, the single palette, the clean lines, the unblemished surfaces and the flux caught momentarily still, are intended to offer a counterbalance to this, to generate an experience of quiet and space and, within that quiet space, a vibrant presence of material. The material itself, and its movement between states, performs as metaphor, for the different states of human being. In a sense, as a whole arrangement, and through my choice and use of material, this exhibition is intended as homage to an ordinary everyday moment.
The most beautiful still lives are never pristine, and herein lies one of their secrets. The lemon has been half-peeled, the wine tasted, the bread broken; oysters have been shucked, part of this great wheel of cheese cut away; the sealed chamber of the pie, held aloft on its raised silver stand, has been opened. Someone has left this knife resting on the edge of a plate, its handle jutting toward us; someone plans, in a moment, to pick it up again. These objects are in use, in dialogue, a part of, implicated. They refuse perfection, or rather they assert that this is perfection, this state of being consumed, used up, enjoyed, existing in time. (Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon 2002)
Material Presence: A Domestic Scene was at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre 31 March – 19 May 2018. It will be exhibited at Y Lle Celf at the Senedd, as part of the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Cardiff Bay, 03 – 11 August 2018 lgac.org.uk eisteddfod.wales zoepreece.com
Institution of the Leviathan Shezad Dawood’s epic, episodic film cycle and related works in different media, Leviathan, explores the connection between human and marine life. The project will be realised over three years. Last year’s Venice Biennale saw the first three of ten films premiered. Emily Hartless met Dawood in North Wales to explore this ambitious project and the increasing importance of text to the artist.
the world was ending as it had been doing for millennia
EH: The project’s sense of place is oppositional to the often bizarre or surreal experience of the Biennale. SD: I wanted to launch this project in Venice without it feeling parachuted in. I wanted it to feel materially there. As a result, we used the Palazzo Canonica – the previous Institute of Marine Sciences – as our exhibition location, and the historic Fortuny factory to show the textiles, which reflected the exchange between East and West and the objects lost at sea by the migrants. We filmed parts of the cycle in Venice itself; this created a web of collaborations. It happened to come together. Of course it’s important, when you go into unknown territory, to discuss a project with the individuals to whom it is relevant. I spoke and engaged closely with the people at the Marine Institute – the connections were overwhelming. The Venetian lagoon and coast is significantly affected by environmental change and global migration.
How does one use art to make the ignored visible? When Shezad Dawood began creating Leviathan – a cycle consisting of texts, films, sculptural works, textiles, research and an extensive public programme – the artist found the answer in language. Drawing on diverse literary traditions, including science fiction, eco-criticism and poetry, and mingled with scientific research and his own anarchic style of distilling language, Dawood built a fluid narrative, exposing the links between mental health, marine life and migration. We met at MOSTYN, in Llandudno, on the North Wales coast, where the latest iteration of Leviathan was shown from March to July 2018. Emily Hartless: Your participation in the Venice Biennale, last year, was a very visible first stage for Leviathan. What informed your choices for the presentation of the project in Venice?
EH: We’re now talking in Llandudno, where another stage of Leviathan cycle is showing. Why bring the Leviathan project to MOSTYN, to North Wales?
Shezad Dawood: I had been approached to do something in Venice, before this project came to fruition. Artists are interested in Venice. Due to the Venice Biennale, there are [major] art projects every couple of years. I found myself asking the question, does Venice really need another art exhibition?
SD: The sense of place for each location is important. When Alfredo [Cramerotti, Director at MOSTYN] and I met and talked about working together, there was always the suggestion the work would come here, because of its location on the North Walian coast and 156
its proximity to the wind farm at Gwynt y Môr, Port of Mostyn. EH: Can we begin with something that appears central to the project, Robert Nixon’s conception of ‘Slow violence’, which, through language, the Leviathan project is trying to address. Nixon said: ‘We need to account for how the temporal dispersion of slow violence affects the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social afflictions, from domestic abuse, to post traumatic stress, in particular, environmental calamities.’ (Slow Violence, (2011) Robert Nixon) Environmental change, migration and trauma can all be classified as slow violence; demoted, expansive traumas, which defy the characterisation of the most damaging violence being the most explosive, visible or instantaneous. How has the Leviathan project, particularly the first text, Episode I you wrote as ‘Ben’, begun to unpick the slow violence of mental health, marine life and migration? What instigated the writing of the text and what methods did you use to create it? SD: There are many ways in which I could respond to the quotation and your questions. I wanted to touch on something inherent; the repressed quality of violence is very much a key part of the Leviathan cycle. When I was exploring the content of the text, I was very aware of how far I could push the nature of writing and the nature of editing. Eventually, I decided to revert to the earlier drafts of the text. The narrative is fiction with fact woven into the material. The factual material was collected in part through meetings I had, over a long period of time, with a wide range of marine biologists, oceanographers, political scientists, neurologists and trauma specialists. Because of the many conversations I was having, looking at man’s inhumanity to man and to the oceans, the writing had become dark and edgy. I was quite nervous about this. For example, in Episode III: Arturo, we have the following quote from the narrative: WE ARE THE CARRION THAT WILL FEED OUR GODS COME AND DEVOUR US MAY THEY REND US LIMB FROM LIMB It’s hard for me to talk about the ‘Ben’ text without discussing the other chapters of the project, because the whole process of writing was a schizophrenic mind-set, or multiple personality journey. In the film of Episode III, such language is paired with imagery of 159
excess, when the rules of society start to break down – both in terms of the brutality of overfishing, and the cult leader who is narrating. The text sounds a bit metaphysical, even apocalyptic in its phrasing. I was also trying to echo some of the allegorical style of the 16th Century – albeit expressed in the more exaggerated style of H.P. Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith. However, using a metaphysical register to begin to talk about our stewardship of the oceans and our relations to our fellow man doesn’t seem so dramatic after all. EH: Did any individuals you worked with object to the language or imagery of the project?
SD: Surprisingly not. I wanted to write something that was appropriate and respectful to the subject matter. However, it was the scientists who pointed out, we’ve had 20 years of a benign approach to these issues and it doesn’t seem to be getting through to people. 20 years of upbeat responses weren’t having the desired effect. We needed a more honest assessment, a more pragmatic response to the challenges we are currently facing as a species. Instead, there were points [at which] I was the one who felt uncomfortable about the material. I spoke to several oceanographers and migrant rights activists and others about my concerns that I wasn’t providing an upbeat solution. But, they encouraged me to be true to the writing. And if this meant exploring 160
some darker corners of the psyche to try and get to the roots of the problems, then so be it. EH: Regularly, the text, the syntax or structure almost reaches disintegration or fracture. The viewer or reader encounters different voices and hovers between a sense of past, present and future. To illustrate these fractures and trauma in writing, without losing the balance of legibility and accessibility, is very difficult. SD: Brian Kuan Wood, editor at e-flux, who I worked with, encouraged me to embrace fully the elements of fiction – for example, to use the phonetic text to immerse the reader in the heightened or traumatic
registers of the narrators, throughout the different chapters of Leviathan. With all the attention paid to them, the visual arts have become increasingly conservative. It is writing that can destabilise the arts and make them visceral, edgy and relevant again. I feel it is a pathway to liberate the visual arts. All these men and women in their lab coats, and their immaculate pens – biros – pushed into the front pockets of their lab coats (…) clip clop, clip clop (…) like time running sideways in a horse universe (…) horse (…) smack (…) ketamine (…) horse tranquiliser (…) like time standingstill (…) clip
clop, clip clop (…) was that the sound of the lids being replaced on biros heard by microbes? A horse-sounding rattle of heels on stone floors that echoes in their microbial earcanals (…) do microbes have ears? EH: The text is also powerful as it is active. Due to its poetic manner, it can be taken by an audience and repeated. This draws on the idea of the sustainability at the core of the project. SD: I was conscious of the sound and the prolonged beat of the writing. Despite the production of textiles, sculpture and films as part of the cycle, I’m still interested in how the language is used in the texts as 161
stand-alone works. To explore the texts further, one possibility we’re looking into is to publish the collected chapters as a novella in partnership with HOME, in Manchester [where this project is travelling to in 2020]. This is important as both the text and film can co-exist autonomously or together. If the various narrators of the chapters represent the schizophrenia of the ‘future-present’, then that schizophrenia should be mirrored in the way the work is disseminated. I’ve always been interested in language and its (in)ability to articulate the space between certain social or political positions and the correlating states of mind. The space experimental writing occupies between the political, philosophical and poetic,
first spread, left: Leviathan Cycle website homepage image, graphic and website designby OK-RM, London; courtesy of the artist
has always been of importance to me, be that fiction or non-fiction.
first spread, right: Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben (production still), Shezad Dawood, 2017, HD Video, 12'52''; courtesy of the artist and UBIK Productions
EH: Your style, and its re-configuration of our connection to the natural world through experimenting with language, seems to draw a direct correlation to the work of environmental critics and Thoreauvian writers. What do you cite as the key influences that have shaped your work?
second spread, left: Leviathan Cycle, Episode 1: Ben (production still), Shezad Dawood, 2017, HD Video, 12'52''; courtesy of the artist and UBIK Productions second spread, right hand page, top: Leviathan Cycle, Episode 2: Yasmine (production still), Shezad Dawood, 2017, HD Video, 22'10’’; courtesy of the artist and UBIK Productions
SD: Everything I do is shadowed by the presence of Anna Kavan; a friend gave me a copy of Sleep Has His House (1948) and I never looked back. Over time Ice (1967), has become my favourite of her works; its sense of abandonment to one’s own apocalypse is a form of both mystical and sexual surrender. I also remember first encountering recordings of Tristan Tzara’s phonetic poems, as a schoolboy, and barely being able to stifle my giggles. His work’s absurd expression of language-as-sound influences my expression of intense emotional states within the different characters’ inner monologues across the Leviathan cycle. And, of course, science fiction plays an important part for me in terms of my attempts to combine radical social critique with poetry. When I was a young artist, Manick Govinda, of Artsadmin, pointed me in the direction of Samuel Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water (1988). His construction of the unreliable narrator and sexual dissidence continue to inspire my writing and visual
second spread, right hand page, bottom: Leviathan Cycle, Episode 3: Arturo (film still), Shezad Dawood, 2017, HD Video, 17'25’’; courtesy of the artist and UBIK Productions third spread, from left: Alkaline battery, lighter with printed design of a jeans pocket, cans of food, Shezad Dawood, 2017, mixed media on Fortuny textile, 192 x 150 cm; © Shezad Dawood; courtesy Timothy Taylor, London/New York String of prayer beads with 3 hooks, Shezad Dawood, 2017, mixed media on Fortuny textile, 198 x 150 cm; © Shezad Dawood; courtesy Timothy Taylor, London/New York Pair of moccasin shoes with laces, number 43; rubber sole with mark ‘Made in Italy’ Shezad Dawood, 2017, mixed media on Fortuny textile, 209 x 149 cm; © Shezad Dawood. Courtesy Timothy Taylor, London/New York Pills, Shezad Dawood, 2017, mixed media on Fortuny textile, 192 x 146 cm; © Shezad Dawood; courtesy Timothy Taylor, London/New York current spread: Research papers imagery taken from Leviathan Cycle website, graphic and website designby OK-RM, London; courtesy of the artist
thinking. Delany’s quite an uneven writer, which I mean as a compliment as it’s about taking risks with form. His masterpiece, Dhalgren (1975), really informed my attempt to create a post-flood community, through performative enactment, in my experimental film It was a time that was a time, (2015). The film was commissioned by Pioneer Works in Brooklyn and had an amazing experimental score by Weyes Blood. It was a time..., like others of my films such as, Towards the Possible Film (2014), were prequels to the Leviathan project – although I didn’t know it at the time. Clip clop, clip clop, clip clop, clip clop. It always made me smile (…) tee hee (…) all these grown up men and women trotting about in their heels (…) clip clop, clip clop. Clip clop (…) On the stone floor (…) clip clop, clip clop, clip clop (…) the sound of horses (…) horsee don’t you stop (…) neeeiiighhhheeeee! EH: How will all the knowledge that has been documented as part of Leviathan continue, beyond the traditional confines of art? SD: We worked with designers OK-RM, who I had collaborated with many times before Venice. [Working out how to] ‘order the page’ on the web led the designers and myself to begin to think about Leviathan as a web-based foundation, modelling the ‘ground plans’ of the website in the manner of older institutional
floor plans to designate research areas. This helped to organise the different strands of the project on a platform that could contain the different aspects of the project and their interconnections. The online architecture, like the rest of the Leviathan, draws on the influence of seventeenth century writers, such as Thomas Hobbe’s publications, or Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of the Tub (1704). The font used is a variant of Garamond; an old-style serif font named after the 16th century Parisian engraver, Claude Garamond. Using a font that is contemporaneous to the publications of Hobbes and Swift, references the original editions of [Hobbes’] Leviathan (1651) and Swift’s A Tale of a Tub – we were able to combine the classical with the contemporary, making people think about past and present fluidly.
attitude to the oceans and the daily reality of migrants – our lack of empathy. We have, in a sense, created the ‘Institution of the Leviathan’ through making connections where it is easier or more comfortable not to join the dots.
EH: When the texts are read, there is an instinct to read them out loud. This creates a sense of empathy or connection with the text. Despite your discussion of the cycle as ‘visceral, edgy or left-field’, and your employment of emergent shifts in thought – such as the development of the human species as a geological agent, or the era of the Anthropocene – your presentation of the texts and the videos is accessible to very diverse audiences.
Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam 18 November 2018 – 27 January 2019
SD: It is important that the project is accessible, as it combats our thinking and
HOME, Manchester 2020
leviathan-cycle.com shezaddawood.com mostyn.org Leviathan will tour to: Plymouth Arts Centre, in partnership with The Atlantic Project 28 September – 21 October 2018
Bluecoat, Liverpool Summer 2019 MOCA, Toronto Autumn 2019 Valletta Contemporary, Malta Autumn 2019
REPEAL! The Repeal! Procession, created by the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, was part of this year’s EVA International, Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art held in Limerick. It took place a month before Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of repealing the punitive amendment. Artists Sarah Cullen and Rachel Fallon of the Campaign met Joeleen Lynch. Joeleen Lynch: What was the intent of the project? Was it opposition; was it performative; collaborative art, or something else?
history that is happening right now, harnessing it to enact change through visual culture. Women have been written out of art histories for too long. I feel it was important to all of us that the banners and procession convey a positive message – that, through working together, change is possible. We are attempting to make visual this fight for the vindication of women’s rights; that way it cannot be denied that we fought.
Rachel Fallon: The intention was to call attention to the necessity to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which equated the life of the unborn child with that of the mother, all but banning abortion. The Repeal! Procession and the various film, video and archive documentation at the Repeal! hub, at Cleeve's [Condensed Milk Factory, in Limerick, one of the venues for EVA International], were a way of informing the general public of the role the Amendment played in perpetuating cruel and hard measures against women and families in crisis situations. The hub brought together an extensive archive of material in one site, for the first time; it enabled information, personal experiences and histories to be available, and it also functioned as context for the procession.
RF: Art has many different roles and there are many different ways to practice. One tool the artist has is to use creative measures to open up a topic for debate – to shine light on a different way of viewing the world. The banners themselves were conceived as artworks; they're carefully crafted, embroidered and painted both as works of art and visual messages. SC: The banners and the procession are about materialising this struggle into something tangible, with a physicality that also allows others to engage with it and act as a catalyst for conversation. People can relate to and possess imagery that conveys their struggles and hopes. There’s a great sense of togetherness in that; and I believe the action of taking art to the streets and participating in trying to create social change beyond the gallery walls amplifies that hope and struggle. Art does not need to be shocking to have impact; making something beautiful does not dilute the message. There is a seductive power to beautiful actions and objects; people are drawn to consider the issues raised for themselves. Harnessing that power can create a space for dialogue.
Sarah Cullen: The Repeal! Procession had many collaborative elements – it involved shared input from the Artists’ Campaign EVA International team, and was coordinated by Áine Phillips, who also worked with Alice Maher in collaborating with students from the Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) MA SPACE. Together they devised The Cassandras, a performative and structural part of the procession, influenced by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz’s media performance In Mourning and in Rage (1977). Alice and Rachel made the original procession proposal and researched and devised the route, together with historical advisor Lisa Godson. We also invited local groups such as The Cut-OutDolls, The Ukealadies and Limerick Dance to participate. With the procession, we wanted to honour the people who have suffered under the Eighth Amendment and institutions of church and state. We started at LSAD, which is a former Magdalene Laundry.1 We wanted to acknowledge Ireland’s dark history of its treatment of women and girls, and to oppose history repeating itself in the context of the Eighth Amendment. The route we chose covers many historic archconfraternity and union routes. We wanted to reclaim these streets for the women of Ireland, and march for a more equal, safer and compassionate future. So, you could say that the project was 'performative' in that we were making visual this journey – bringing the strength of personal testimony to the streets of Limerick, acknowledging the voices of those who were ignored and oppressed.
JL: Part of what you did was to take the private into the public sphere, to widen the debate through personal story. It was also about reclaiming the streets, as you said. Could you talk about grass roots activism in this situation? Was there political backing? RF: The Artists’ Campaign was about dissemination of information and the offer to ‘talk about Repeal’. The Citizens’ Assembly [established in Ireland in 2016 to consider abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change] was a turning point. The request for personal submissions [about the effect of the Eighth Amendment] opened a space for those women and families, whose lives had been impacted, to tell their stories. In the aftermath of the vote, many of the members of the Assembly felt that it was this accounting of personal experience, along with expert opinion, that made them understand the full and negative consequences of the Eighth Amendment. It therefore stood to reason that, if these stories could be shared on a wider platform, the general public might also see to the heart of the matter. The impact of the Citizens’ Assembly led us to rethink how we could use our own cultural capital to facilitate change.
JL: Can you explain where the role of art and the artistic value lie in what you did? SC: Artists have a rich history of activism and utilising art to draw attention to social and political issues, from Goya’s The Disasters of War (1810-20) series to Act Up [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power] in the ’80s. Artists respond to what is happening socially and politically, whether directly or indirectly. The banners, the archive and the procession that form Repeal!, are ways of responding to the shift in cultural and social
JL: Was there ever a feeling that art and artists were being used? Was it art-washing?
RF: No, I don’t think we could be accused of that. The Artists’ Campaign was founded, in 2015, by Cecily Brennan, Eithne Jordan, Alice Maher and Paula Meehan, as an online campaign to amass signatures. At this time, there had been neither talk of a Citizens’ Assembly nor an imminent referendum. Every subsequent action was considered in accordance with what the artist signatories had signed up for with the original statement. Stories, testimonies and films were only circulated with full permissions. All of the core group of artists involved in EVA International – Aine, Breda [Mayock], Alice, Alison [Laredo]; Sarah, and I, had been campaigning on these issues for years – some were involved in campaigning in 1983 against the insertion of the Amendment – and everyone was a volunteer, giving time and energy to organise, campaign and create these works. When we were subsequently invited to participate at EVA International, we contacted local groups and practitioners and actively sought their involvement. JL: The procession – along with many of the artworks, the banners, the performances – was so carefully considered and understated in its presentation, it became almost like a soft-power. RF: The aim was to create a piece that would be powerful and dignified. The Cassandra figures, at the head of the procession, were mysterious; the dancers, banners, single song [This is how We Rise, written and performed by Breda Mayock], and the solitary figure of Breda at the back, preceded by six Magdalene figures, were intended to provoke curiosity. The procession took place at midday, through the main thoroughfare of the city, as the opening event for EVA International; the eyes of the art world, the media, and the general public locally were upon us. We were not obviously agitating, or confrontational; and people reacted in accordance. There was very little heckling or counter argument. At Cleeves, a finale performance took place, and then slowly everything was folded away and installed as part of the Repeal! exhibition. JL: You suggested to us earlier that the project could be seen as a visual response to the visceral imagery used by the NO campaign. SC: The NO campaign’s visual messaging was omnipresent in Ireland, throughout the run up to the referendum, and it was often graphic and misleading. I don’t believe that kind of imagery is effective in convincing
people one way or the other, or in provoking productive conversations. Maybe the resounding YES vote evidences that. In my opinion, there is greater power in creating a positive visual culture, using imagery and actions to provoke discourse and internal reflection – to offer hope rather than dogmatically telling people what to think or how to feel. Being continuously confronted with ‘visceral imagery’ often makes people shut down. With this project we were offering something more akin to a visual act of solidarity, welcoming engagement with the struggle for women’s rights, and aiming to create something powerful, considered and strong. JL: Could you say more about the banners specifically? RF: Alice, Breda and I wanted the banners to provide a strong focal point. We wanted to make our message as positive as it could be in a situation that can result in mudslinging, given the topic. We wanted people to be interested in our message, and in the imagery and iconography we drew from: David and Goliath (1605-1608) by Orazio Gentileschi; Piero della Francesca’s polyptych Madonna della Misericordia (1445–1462) protecting the nation under her cloak; Grayson Perry’s artist's journey scarf that was commissioned for Tate, reimagined as the journey of a pregnant woman in Ireland; Paula Rego's work etc. Banners have had huge social significance throughout history, in particular male history – trade unions, armies etc. But we wanted primarily to reference the suffragettes and to reclaim histories that women have been written out of. More artists became involved – Aine, with her performative Bannerettes, and Sarah, who was already making banners on this theme. More stories began to circulate, fewer people began to feel alone with their story, more people began to understand. SC: I met the Artists’ Campaign activists in 2017, after making You Shall Have Exactly What You Want (2016-17), and in the middle of making Our Toil Doth Sweeten Others. We were all making banners with similar goals in mind, and we had a lot of over-lapping themes and design elements, such as the use of eye imagery and embroidery. Our Toil... and YSHEWYW, are part of a larger body of my work – photographic and a book – exploring the experiences of pregnant people in Ireland who are faced with crisis pregnancies and a lack of reproductive healthcare.
Making the banners became a way for me to connect to historical use of overt and coded image and text, by women’s movements, to enact and communicate resistance. I wanted to acknowledge the women who have come before us and convey a message of hope for all those fighting for our rights, a physical manifestation of this struggle. I am also interested in the reclamation of power by re-appropriating and reframing imagery and text. I used an online archive of 19th/early 20th century book and magazine scans to make collages. The phrase ‘you shall have exactly what you want’ comes from an advertisement for Women’s Illustrated Magazine, claiming to contain ‘thousands of things that women want’. ‘Our toil doth sweeten others’ is a motto from the American Beekeeping Association, from the late 19th century. In place of a worker bee in the centre, I painted a vulvic eye form, based on another found illustration of a woman’s eye, which bore little anatomical resemblance to an actual eye. I sewed a lock of my mother’s hair from the ’80s and a lock of my sister’s hair from 2017 around the perimeter, to place them symbolically at the centre of the fight for the rights they had been denied. With Six of Swords, I wanted to reference women’s connection to the divine, and to reclaim the imagery depicted on the tarot card of the same name. The meaning of that card is often interpreted as a sign of progress or change, of moving on from a dark past towards a brighter future. The swords, often upright, are representative of the power of the rational mind over the heart. In tarot decks, such as the Rider Waite, the imagery presented is usually of a man rowing a woman and young child across turbulent waters towards a brighter land. I used, instead, a female figure steering herself through the turmoil, facing it head on, with the swords strapped to her back, indicating the need for both the rational mind and the heart, not one over the other. The back of the banner depicts another eye; she is keeping an eye on the conflict and pain of the past in order to prevent history from repeating itself and to propel herself forward. JL: What about the aprons? RF: The aprons belong to another body of work called The Home Front. I wanted to include some sort of Magdalene reference in the procession. At Magdalene institutions, the womens’ hair was cut, their names and clothes taken away, and they were given sack-like dresses, hats, boots and aprons. I’d been doing research into anasyrma, and the
raising of skirts to ward off evil and to curse invaders. I really liked the idea that what was seen as a submissive artefact could, in fact, have huge power; because, let’s face it, the Pope wears an apron (gremial) and cretan fertility goddesses wore aprons, as did Egyptian pharaohs. I wanted to return the status of power an apron has held to these disenfranchised women. I also liked the idea of subverting military mottos, so, for example, ‘to ensure hope is our role’ is a translation from Latin of the motto of the The Polizia Penitenziaria [Italian Penitentiary Guard]. It was important too that there was expensive fabric in the reveal, when the aprons were lifted – this was the sexuality that was denied these women; this was what they had to keep hidden on the inside to survive. JL: Can you describe how activism has influenced your practices, in this and other projects?
RF: I have been involved in activism since my teens, and for many years my work has situated itself in opening up the personal domestic space. I am part of a number of mother artist groups in the UK, where activism takes the form of supporting artists’ practices to continue through motherhood and child rearing – the pooling of knowledge, and creation of opportunities. I have also been part of collaborations such as the Feminist Parasite Institution, instigated by artist Jesse Jones, and also on setting up artist-led studios, Outpost, which situated itself within the local community and provided support and opportunities for other artists in the locality on a voluntary basis. SC: I became involved in activism around the Eighth Amendment in 2016, having had enough of witnessing the stigma and shamefacing of friends and family members for their reproductive choices. The lasting effects of the State and society’s barbaric treatment of
women and girls can still be witnessed in the women who survived it and the stories they have to tell. I wanted to engage in activism both practically and artistically to try to enact change through cultural means. My practice explores issues related to gender struggles, mental health and mortality, by relating them to our current social, political and economical landscape. Participating in activism means taking an active role in change-making; it seemed only natural that this would inform my artistic practice too. JL: What will happen to the artworks produced as part of the project, along with the ephemera collected, the stories? RF: The banners will be shown next, as part of a wider group show at Talbot Rice gallery in Edinburgh, and then possibly in Cologne. We’re in negotiations to collate the entire campaign archive to enable it to be held
somewhere, where it will both be correctly looked after and accessible to the public in the long term. JL: Would there have been such focus on the Artists’ Campaign, do you think, without EVA International? RF: The Artists’ Campaign was in existence long before our participation in EVA International. Also, the Day of Testimonies, a day of film and performance, conceived by Cecily Brennan, had already taken place in 2017. Most of the banners had already been used at the Annual March for Choice in Dublin in 2017, on International Women’s Day and at Art and Activism at NCAD. So really the procession was about bringing these elements to a different and wider public. There had already been media attention and articles written, but EVA International brought the work to the international stage with articles in The Guardian, Hyperallergic and other publications. Note: 1. The Magdalene Laundries were institutions run by nuns where pregnant and unmarried mothers, and potentially 'wayward' girls, were incarcerated to work for free in order to expunge their sins. They had no idea of the length of their penance and in most cases their children were taken away from them to be sold on to married couples, often in the U.S.
EVA International was held in Limerick City, Ireland, 14 April — 8 July 2018 eva.ie ainephillips.com bredamayock.com sacullen.com alicemaher.com alisonlaredo.com rachelfallon.com
Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment will form part of At the Gates, a group show at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, 26 October 2018 – 26 January 2019: including Maja Bajevic, Georgia Horgan, Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Teresa Margolles, Olivia Plender, Suzanne Treister; the exhibition will be shown alongside Jesse Jones’ Tremble Tremble. ed.ac.uk/talbot-rice
first spread, both pages: Apron of Power, Rachel Fallon for Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment's Repeal! Procession, at EVA International 2018; photo: Darren Ryan; courtesy the artists and EVA International second spread, both images: Journeys Banner, (details), Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon and Breda Mayock for the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment's Repeal! Procession, at EVA International 2018; photo: Alison Laredo; courtesy the artists and EVA International current spread, left hand page: Our Toil Doth Sweeten Others (front/ back), Sarah Cullen, 2018; photo: Sarah Cullen; courtesy the artist currentspread, right hand page: Breda Mayock at the end of the Repeal! Procession event, Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment at EVA International 2018; photo: Rhiannon Lowe; courtesy the artists and EVA International
And You Thought I Was Bad? Guy Oliver’s work combines comedy and tragedy, drawing together many concerns: digital media; sincerity amidst the layering of online language, and contemporary masculinity, as reflected in the hazy reference points of popular culture. In a cut and paste to and fro, replicating the layers of ideas in Oliver’s work, Emily Watkins spoke to the artist about his practice and his latest exhibition.
Emily Watkins: YoSo ur Zabludowicz show opened on 21 June,. the longest day of the year. Dear Guy,
Comment [ew1]: Was the first intro friendlier? Happy to start here if you are.
I’m a recent graduate from the University of East London. I find that generating ideas for my practice is no problem, and I’m full of projects and plans. The real trouble I have is with getting moving! How can I motivate myself to put these ideas into action, and see my practice manifest? I find myself drinking fosters and playing playstation, instead of drafting funding proposals. Help! G. Bush Guy Oliver: It certainly felt like that. I’m showing one central video, and quite a few other pieces as well. There are floorboard paintings – I paint on laminate floorboards and jumble them up, and they’re hung like that. I’m also showing a big VHS display rack – of course you can’t get them anymore, so I made a bespoke one. EW: The art object! A sculpture of a VHS rack?
Comment [ew2]: Flippant? Funny?
GO: Yeah, a sort of sculptural painting. The surface of the VHS rack is a surface for a found image: a painting of Vladimir Putin by George W Bush. EW: That’s a pleasant palimpsest of references. GO: Well, it ties in with the video, which is primarily about George Bush and that period of history – about 10 years ago. The premise of the film is my revisiting an idea I had as a student, making a t-shirt with an image of Richard Nixon and the phrase ‘And you thought I was bad?’, in a kind of spoof documentary. EW: I’ve been looking at your other videos, and there’s something – annoying for a writer, because it’s hard to articulate – about the texture of those works, which really struck me. It’s nearly nostalgia, about (and enacting) a circularity of experience. What’s touching about this central film [And you thought I was bad? 2018 CONFIRM] is the way in which you do what we all do – place yourself, find context for you when all this stuff was happening. Where was I, when the war started? Where was I, when that speech was made? Then there’s this mediation, by way of the documentary format, of your place in that history. It feels close to home in a generational kind of way. Are you thinking about sincerity? About this ineptitude of people our age for engaging with things without irony? GO: I think about that a lot, actually. The default language, particularly online, is ironic, sarcasm; we laugh at everything. I think it’s interesting to put an emphasis on comedy language, to think about comedy and seriousness – to what extent can comedy investigate very serious subjects? I guess I’m using those languages – of banality and something like dumbness – to subvert expectations and disarm the viewer. I know the work could exist as a silly internet video, and I don’t have a problem with that. Silly internet videos, in the right context, can seem quite profound. There’s a sadness in a lot of my films, which I didn’t realise until recently. 170
EW: There’s certainly something melancholy in And you thought I was bad? It’s about apathy, I think – the film is brimming with gestures to apathy; movement towards inaction,
language, to think about comedy and seriousness – to what extent can comedy investigate very serious subjects? I guess I’m using those languages – of banality and something like dumbness – to subvert expectations and disarm the viewer. I know the work could exist as a silly internet video, and I don’t have a problem with that. Silly internet videos, in the right context, can seem quite profound. There’s a sadness in a lot of my films, which I didn’t realise until recently. EW: There’s certainly something melancholy in And you thought I was bad? It’s about apathy, I think – the film is brimming with gestures to apathy; movement towards inaction, a new sincerity. You’re talking about the anti-war demonstrations, and say something like, ‘Well, I couldn’t go, I think I was working that day’. The whole film hinges on not making a tshirt. Montage crops up a lot, and – speaking of ‘silly internet videos’ – so much of the fabric of contemporary culture is woven from other clips, references, material. It’s not made of new stuff, but it is new. In the video, you talk about a 1991 Johnny Cash video [Goin’ By The Book], which is assembled from clips of newsreels, disasters – and then you show it, which is montage on montage. For Cash, that format must have felt so cutting edge, but to use it now is to knowingly employ something so dated. And yet, ‘dated’ is contemporary. The ’90s are back and so are the ’00s. Montage. I put to you: montage! What’s the significance of montage in your practice? GO: I had the George Bush t-shirt idea first, and then this separate idea about Johnny Cash. That was going to be a [video] essay piece, trying to deconstruct that Goin’ By The Book video of his. I was so floored by it when I saw it. My interest in Johnny Cash is that he remained this mainstream figure, like: wholesome family values; Christian Right; a country singer. But, at the same time, he was quite politically daring – think of his song What is Truth?, which features in my film. Or the song The Man In Black, which aligns his sympathies with the poor and dispossessed and those opposing the Vietnam War. Or the Album Bitter Tears, which supported the rights of Native Americans... There’s a song called The Ballad of Ira Hayes, Taurus You’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to engage with things without irony? Sincerity is still causing you problems. Why do you slip so easily into the default language, particularly online, ironic sarcasm? But silly internet videos, in the right context, can seem quite profound. There’s a sadness that will manifest a lot in your films, and you’ll come to find comedy can investigate very serious subjects. By using those languages, of banality and something like dumbness, you can subvert expectations and maybe even disarm the viewer.which is about a native American who fought in the war, comes home and becomes an alcoholic. This was very unpopular material in Nashville…! In America, I showed And you thought I was bad? with a text piece, a line from a song of his called San Quentin: ‘San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.’ It’s a song he wrote and performed for the first time in San Quentin [prison], for the inmates there. I see it almost as performance art on his part. It was a strange thing to do. EW: Sure. GO: So, for me, it’s about being radical in a mainstream way… That montage of newsreels [in Goin’ By The Book] was a daring thing to do, to show a current affairs piece on MTV. I like those moments when you try to sum up the whole world – an ambitious statement, but in a reduced way, I suppose.Gemini ‘Where was I, when the war started? Where was I when that speech was made?’ You’re always putting yourself at the centre of events — after all, everyone can find it difficult to keep up with proceedings if they don’t have a reference point. Make sure you don’t lose sense of the bigger picture in the midst of it all; who knows? One day you might have to make an exhibition about it. EW: There is something ambitious about it. I guess the more video there is, the more connected we all are, the more overwhelming the amount of suffering and material about it must seem. It must have felt, it can certainly feel now, that the world is on its knees, assailed from all angles. How do you begin to engage with that? How do you decide what to care about? GO: I think that particular video of his is a beautiful piece of editing. There’s 172 a real rhythm and a crispness. I think it’s more poetic, less obvious than, ‘isn’t the world crazy?’ I’m sure there was a lot of thought behind choosing which clip went where.
Comment [ew3]: A play within a play
Comment [ew4]: Too many ‘Montage’s?
EW: There is something ambitious about it. I guess the more video there is, the more connected we all are, the more overwhelming the amount of suffering and material about it must seem. It must have felt, it can certainly feel now, that the world is on its knees, assailed from all angles. How do you begin to engage with that? How do you decide what to care about? GO: I think that particular video of his is a beautiful piece of editing. There’s a real rhythm and a crispness. I think it’s more poetic, less obvious than, ‘isn’t the world crazy?’ I’m sure there was a lot of thought behind choosing which clip went where. EW: And you thought I was bad? ends with your own music video. And again, it’s composed of clips from [television] news, 2003 to 2006 – the years you were at university. How did you pick what to include?Cancer You’re finding yourself slipping into a new persona, even with people you know well. It’s not that you want to be deceptive — more like you’re not sure how to relate to others in the midst of societal alienation. While your new personality is the perfect recipe, made from your old favourites — a bit of the Ultimate Warrior here, a dash of Johnny Cash there — it’s beginning to take on a life of its own. Make sure you make the most of this new voice; it could be a valuable tool in your quest to engage with the world from a remove. GO: Well. I wrote the lyrics to the song first. I was going through online news databases, just to remind myself of things that meant something to me, or that I had an attachment to. It was a challenge to write a song, to sum up that time. It’s a sincere-ironic balance. EW: Yeah, there’s a line I wrote down – ‘earthquake destruction, wardrobe malfunction’… GO: That’s Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl. It was such a big deal at the time… Basically, he pulled part of her outfit off, and she had some sort of jewellery over her nipple, but otherwise her right breast was exposed. It caused an absolute furore in America – so silly. Leo Yeah, call him drunken Ira Hayes But his land is just as dry And his ghost is lying thirsty In the ditch where Ira died EW: And yet that gets airtime, just like a natural disaster does. Going back to that sincerity/levity question, what happens when you put them together like that? Wardrobe and Earthquake? Does the tension between them elevate one above the other? Or is it more like, the world is funny and terrible at the same time, and we ought to give both facets attention? GO: I suppose, in my practice, it is a way of subverting interpretation – this mixing of banality and really serious things, treating them the same way. I guess the subjects I choose, and sometimes the artwork itself – because I’m using protest language, emotive political figures – could look really didactic, or as though I have a political agenda. I want to wrongfoot people sometimes. EW: So you don’t have a political agenda? Scorpio Overnight, you’ve become your father. Those things that used to drive you crazy about him are suddenly front and centre in your own means of moving through the world, and you’re starting to worry that you’re part of a cycle of men who will pass these quirks through generations until the end of the world. Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys/ Are trying to be heard above your noise? Listen to the lonely voice of youth, especially when it asks such pertinent questions as ‘What is truth?’ GO: Of course I have my own feelings in relation to those subjects. But I want to generate a bit of confusion, a bit of ambiguity, at the same time. If I feel ambivalent, I’m happy for the work to be ambivalent and uncomfortable for that reason. Hopefully it generates some moral complexity; it’s important to have that tension and insecurity in reading 173it.
such pertinent questions as ‘What is truth?’ GO: Of course I have my own feelings in relation to those subjects. But I want to generate a bit of confusion, a bit of ambiguity, at the same time. If I feel ambivalent, I’m happy for the work to be ambivalent and uncomfortable for that reason. Hopefully it generates some moral complexity; it’s important to have that tension and insecurity in reading it.
EW: On the one hand, it makes it uncomfortable because the viewer can’t find a foothold, morally speaking. But it also softens it, surely? Sugar coated? No, no. I mean, by putting the banal or the comedic next to the catastrophic, the former dials down the latter as much as the horrible amps up the funny. It makes it easier to watch, in a way. Libra Hold your tongue; it is, after all, smarter to allude to something than address it. GO: I want to generate questions, that’s for sure. EW: Let’s get into the motif of cycles. The joke is that the Nixon reference was outdated when Bush was in office, and now that gag itself is limp because it’s 10 years later again – and yet that makes it more timely than ever, because we never get to the end of the story, i.e. Trump. Why didn’t you want to see it through to that end point? GO: It’s certainly a bit of a monolith hanging over the film. I’ve done similar things with work about Thatcher [Guilt Complex, 2016], and I think the past can be a more interesting way of talking about the present than engaging head on. It’s going to happen in the viewer’s head, but it seems too obvious to say it. Then, there’s something goofy about not saying it… Aries You’ve done it again — started another war, that is! Whether it’s Vietnam, the Gulf or Iraq, you don’t seem to be able to help yourself; here we are again, and no lessons learned. Try some conflict resolution classes at your local community centre, where many resources are freely available and easy to access. Look out for the colour red, and a man in strange clothes with a message. EW: But don’t we get back to the whole sincerity thing? I’m instinctively on board, but the question remains – why isn’t it as clever to address Trump as to allude to Trump? GO: It’s something a lot of people have noticed, commented on – that in the era of Trump, satire suddenly feels so ineffectual. There’s nothing extreme or exaggerated enough now that could make an impact, or compete with the current reality, so maybe we should step back. What Zizek talked about the danger of just laughing at Trump all the time, like internet culture, ‘hahah, it’s really funny’. He says you’ve got to be careful, you know. Like, what if he does rehabilitate the economy? What if he does get things moving? Somehow it’s too easy. That’s not the point, but… what do you do when reality becomes more absurd than fiction? EW: Can you tell me about your persona, in the videos? That feels mediated too, especially having met you now… Aquarius There’s a project you’ve had on the back burner for a long time, but 174
now’s the moment to let it go for good. After all, if you’ve not gotten round to it yet, there must be something stopping you. Whether it’s the
step back. What Zizek talked about the danger of just laughing at Trump all the time, like internet culture, ‘hahah, it’s really funny’. He says you’ve got to be careful, you know. Like, what if he does rehabilitate the economy? What if he does get things moving? Somehow it’s too easy. That’s not the point, but… what do you do when reality becomes more absurd than fiction? EW: Can you tell me about your persona, in the videos? That feels mediated too, especially having met you now… Aquarius There’s a project you’ve had on the back burner for a long time, but now’s the moment to let it go for good. After all, if you’ve not gotten round to it yet, there must be something stopping you. Whether it’s the crushing force of capital or an inability to rouse any enthusiasm for a world which has screwed you and your cohort, it’s time to give up making anything at all. Buy a lottery ticket on a Wednesday — it could just be your lucky week! GO: Yeah, I am performing a role. I’m spoofing those kind of documentary formats. But at a certain point I thought, ‘Am I making a Philomena Cunk episode…?’ EW: So have we got to a point where we’re satirising satire? Is that what we do now? Like, making a version of a version of a version… GO: It’s certainly a reference to those televisual satire moments, although I don’t know if it’s a satire of them. I’m interested in appropriating those languages in the wrong place; they shouldn’t be in a gallery, per se. And television, one way or another, was a big influence on me. Those tropes of arts broadcasting – I’m interested in deconstructing them as part of the work. I like taking that Kenneth Clark, tweed jacket role. It’s also playing on the student archetype. EW: He’s (you’re?) quite earnest… GO: Well, that’s the central joke – that ‘I’ thought this t-shirt would save the world. Which is absurd, in itself. I’m playing with my own persona as much as anyone else’s. Pisces
Comment [ew5]: Scrutinising? Interrogating?
archetype. EW: He’s (you’re?) quite earnest… GO: Well, that’s the central joke – that ‘I’ thought this t-shirt would save the world. Which is absurd, in itself. I’m playing with my own persona as much as anyone else’s. Pisces Baffled by the long and shaggy hair in San Francisco? Suspicious of the beads and roman sandals sported by all the hippies? It’s time to make a move to Muskogee Oklahoma, where popular activities include respecting the college dean and waving Old Glory down at the courthouse. It’s a place where even squares can have a ball: after all, progress is terrifying.
EW: One of the nice things about the television and the comedy, the music video references, is their relationship to a very old argument about visual art being elitist. Because, as you say, a lot of your work could find a home very happily on the internet, though I agree that it feels important to insert that voice into a white cube-space. Then there’s a whole other question – why do those spaces feel exclusive? Because, ostensibly, galleries ought to be really welcoming. They’re often free to enter, run by young people who feel like they want to help… And yet, despite all that, it seems difficult for a lot of people to access them. GO: I think a lot about this general alienation from contemporary art that British people have. I have made references to that in the past – playing with something like a tabloid, lowculture relationship to contemporary art. I work part-time at the National Gallery, which is really interesting; because I get to observe how different cultures, broadly speaking, relate to work in the museum. EW: Do you think the British are particularly bad at it? GO: I do, yeah. Historically we’ve always been a bit suspicious of visual art, and that otherEuropeans have a really different tradition on that front. We came to it a bit later; the British have much more of a literary tradition. I think that old suspicion persists, and although we’re very good at contemporary art and we do have an enthusiastic audience for it, it’s also important to remember that the vast majority of people, in the country as a whole, are totally disconnected from contemporary art and think it’s a load of bollocks, which interests me a lot. It’s something I’ve always been aware of. I try and find connections with everything, say between art and sport. Take football – the similarities [between art and sport] are often in terms of the analysis. A lot of football commentary feels very similar to art criticism. I always thought that Late Review and Football Focus had a lot in common.
Comment [ew6]: (Western)? Continental?
Virgo As a football fan, you’re often watching a game, whether it’s on the telly or at the stadium — but lately, the chants have started to seem more important than the match itself. Just because it feels hard to reconcile macho chants with private views, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to unite two interests; in fact, it’s more important than ever that you do. Open an exhibtion on a solstice (summer or winter) for an extra astral boost, and look out for a VHS rack — it will bring you luck.
EW: That angle of yours seems like it’s taking the piss out of the artworld as much as the thing it’s riffing on, or the thing that’s going through that filter. Both end up nicely skewered, because it’s about context. Sporting heroes and country singers and presidents belong to something like Americana, but not to the art world. Football belongs to people outside galleries, not inside them. GO: No, but I’d like to reconcile the two. Johnny Cash died the day before I started uni. I had this idea of making a physical text piece, which would fill a whole space with that line from San Quentin, ‘I hate every inch of you.’ I actually made that work. 176 EW: The t-shirt!
Comment [ew7]: Sagittarius Always make your ideas as soon
EW: That angle of yours seems like it’s taking the piss out of the artworld as much as the thing it’s riffing on, or the thing that’s going through that filter. Both end up nicely skewered, because it’s about context. Sporting heroes and country singers and presidents belong to something like Americana, but not to the art world. Football belongs to people outside galleries, not inside them. GO: No, but I’d like to reconcile the two. Johnny Cash died the day before I started uni. I had this idea of making a physical text piece, which would fill a whole space with that line from San Quentin, ‘I hate every inch of you.’ I actually made that work. EW: The t-shirt!
Comment [ew7]: Sagittarius Always make your ideas as soon as they come into your head before they become obsolete and don’t make any sense.
Guy Oliver And You Thought I Was Bad? Is at Zabludowicz Collection Invites, 21 June – 12 August 2018) zabludowiczcollection.com
first spread: And You Thought I Was Bad? Guy Oliver, 2018, film still, Zabludowicz Collection Invites solo exhibition, London; courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection third spread, left to right: Video Nasty (Putin after Bush), Guy Oliver, 2018 (detail); plywood, Blueback poster prints, gloss, acrylic, household paint, resin, VHS cases and cassettes; courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection; photo Tim Bowditch. Gravity Gets Me Down, Guy Oliver, 2018; posters and acrylic on laminate floorboards; courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection; photo Tim Bowditch. this spread: And You Thought I Was Bad? Guy Oliver, 2018, film still, Zabludowicz Collection Invites solo exhibition, London; courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection.
SNIFF Sissel Tolaas is a Norwegian artist, whose practice revolves around smell and cultural conditioning. Kirsty Lang met Tolaas at the inaugural Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Latvia (RIBOCA), where she was commissioned to make two installations – beyondSE(A)nse, which replicates the smells of a Baltic beach, and Smeller’s Corner, a smell map of the world, made from odour molecules, gathered from 50 cities, then synthesised in Tolaas’ laboratory I find Sissel Tolaas in a 1950s chemistry lab, on the second floor of a disused university building, in the centre of Riga. The old Biological Faculty is the main venue of RIBOCA. It’s a perfect space for Tolaas – she has a PhD in Chemistry – full of dusty old bottles and test tubes, which she found stashed away in cupboards, abandoned when the university moved into a new modern building. There’s a ghostly feel to it; the walls are covered in peeling paint and portraits of long-dead scientists in white coats – all men of course. It’s a reminder of when Riga was one of the most important centres for scientific research in the Soviet Union, but it’s also reminiscent of a film set, full of period props. I half expect a mad scientist with a shock of Albert Einstein white hair to jump out of one of the cupboards and accost us. Tolaas has placed several beakers around the old lab, bubbling away on Bunsen burners. I try to imagine a similar display in a British gallery and decide Health and Safety would never allow it. Out of each beaker comes a plume of scented mist, recreating smells that Tolaas has collected along the beach at Jurmala, a resort 20 minutes outside the capital. ‘Please sniff’, she orders. The first makes me gag. It’s chemical, metallic, there’s nothing natural about it. ‘The Baltic Sea is very polluted’, she explains. The next one has a fishy odour. Herrings, apparently. There’s also seaweed, sand and the fresh smell of the pine trees that line the shore. ‘I trained as a chemist, but I wanted to be creative, to find a way of combining science and art, to make the invisible, visible’, she explains. ‘The Baltic Sea pretty much died, because of the concentration of heavy industry along the coast, and I’m hoping this installation [beyondSE(A)nse] will trigger a conversation about that.’ RIBOCA funded Tolaas to make several visits to Latvia in preparation for making the site-specific installation. She spent most of
that time walking the long sandy beaches and talking to locals. ‘I speak Russian, which helps. Gradually the old babushkas, who walk along the shore every day, started to trust me and would bring me smells, or tell me their memories. I think they thought I was some visiting Viking!’ I first met Tolaas three years ago, in Berlin. A curator friend told me she was one of the most interesting artists to settle in the city. We arranged a visit to her light-filled studio, which contains an archive of 7,000 smells, all neatly labelled in small, airtight medicine bottles. She’s now working on an archive of the world’s oceans. I want to know what was the most disgusting smell she’d found. She holds up a vial containing the distinctive stench of a First World War trench. She’d been asked to recreate it for a museum exhibition, marking the centenary of 1914-18. A number of visitors vomited after sniffing the installation, which includes molecules that replicate the odours of rotting human flesh, rats, faeces, urine, vomit, cigarette butts, mud, shell casings and gunpowder. She has drawn on her archive to create another installation at the Riga Biennial. For the Sensorium, in the Dubulti Art Station, in Jurmala, she has replicated the smellscapes of 50 different cities. ‘What is a city beyond the way it looks and the way it sounds? The smell identity is a unique signature, composed of people’s habits, what they eat, traffic, pollution, the climate. I am asked to do city portraits for different purposes – awareness, diversity, pollution issues, tolerance. The project around Mexico City is about pollution. Kansas City and Detroit are about diversity, about daring to move into other people’s neighbourhoods.’ Visitors to her installation at Dubulti Art Station can play a game matching smells with places on a map. I’m quite pleased when I
manage to identify Mexico City by the stench of diesel fumes. ‘When you smell, you trigger the unconscious immediately, you smell before you see’, says Sissel. ‘We see that with animals. But that’s also the case with humans.’ To Tolaas, there’s no such thing as a good or bad smell. That, she says, is a product of prejudice people are taught early on. It relates to the kind of foods we eat, what we wash with, whether we come from culture that tolerates natural body odours, all these things are culturally specific. I’m reminded of being told by a friend in Japan that most Westerners smell (and not in a good way) of dairy, or lamb, two foods that don’t feature in a typical Japanese diet. The Norwegian artist has now moved on from doing city smellscapes to aromatic portraits of individuals. After all, each one of us has a unique odour. ‘Will I be able to apply deodorant before you do mine’, I ask? ‘No’, she says firmly.
beyond SE(A)nse, Sissel Tolaas, 2018, installation detail
The wound is the place (interruption) (the edges facing each other) (the edge, fringe, frizzled) we call it crust but it is a process a story, (starting with)
(begins after the trauma)
KHISHVI's installation was originally commissioned as part of the exhibition A Slight Ache, curated by James Richards at Chapter, Cardiff. The work consists of drawings and collages across an architectural installation. Here, KHISHVI presents an edit of a selection of drawings, along with documentation of the installation, in an exclusive piece for CCQ. Documentation photography: Rory Buckland, Mark Blower and the artist. All spreads: In Love, KHISHVI, 2018 181
Lovers find secret places inside this violent world where they make transactions with beauty.*
In the Changing Room Best known as a fashion designer, Osman Yousefzada is a multi-disciplinary creative, whose practice extends into the realms of curation, publishing and writing. As his debut exhibition, Being Somewhere Else, opened at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Yousefzada met with Charlotte Wilcock, to discuss the complex connection between his Pashtun migrant upbringing, and his craft. Charlotte Wilcock: Walking into Being Somewhere Else, I was anticipating an exhibition of dress. In fact, what is presented is an autobiographical series of installations, relating to migrant life in Britain, and a commentary on the dichotomy between fashion cultures in the east and west.
OY: …The female self especially. I feel the female self dreams bigger, even if those are confined dreams, dreams that are sacrificial. There are female spaces and male spaces in the show, but presented very much from a female perspective. That came out quite naturally, because I’ve always been surrounded by women; also my mum’s a dressmaker – she’s a profound influence.
Osman Yousefzada: I didn’t want to do a conventional fashion show, or a display with mannequins throughout.
CW: Did she see the show?
CW: Fashion curation, as a distinct practice in its own right, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Is an exhibition of dress something that will come organically, as you progress in your practice?
OY: Yes. It was the first time she’d ever been to an art gallery. The whole community I grew up in is pretty insular – my parents don’t speak English, and they’re completely illiterate. My mum is a dressmaker, and has run a fashion couture practice – hand sewing/finishing – from home, but it’s more oriented towards requirement; she’s not producing something that necessarily has a higher universal message. So, in a way, it was similar to the Bangladeshi women trying to fathom what this other world was really like.
OY: Definitely. I saw the exhibition at Ikon Gallery as taking the lid off the allure and the glamour of this ephemeral, fast fashion culture of consumption. I wanted to be earnest about the truth behind everything. It started when I was in Dhaka, filming garment workers, who are so connected to, and yet still so disconnected from, fashion; they produce these amazing clothes, but they can’t consume them.
CW: Perhaps experiences like that explore the question about whether fashion can be considered an art-form in itself, or whether it’s merely stylised utilitarianism?
CW: Almost like a blueprint for production-worker alienation… OY: Very Marxist! I scoured charity shops and took clothes that were made in Bangladesh back with me to Dhaka. I ran a workshop – I gave the workers a suitcase of clothes, and they sat in a circle, and started trying the clothing on. They were modelling and showing each other these clothes that they’re not necessarily usually allowed to wear. They started taking selfies and photos to document the feeling of trying these clothes on, saying, ‘I’ve never seen such a beautiful shirt, I want to keep it as a memory’. I interviewed the workers and asked them about their dreams. I wanted them to connect with who they were making clothes for. I asked them to imagine who their muses were, and what the western woman’s life was like.
OY: A lot of these sterile environments actually create a god-like decree. They’re making you think, yes, but then many institutions like galleries, are quite preachy. I’m doing something in Brussels, in October, about how clothes have the power to change you. One part of the exhibition is a series of paintings, then you go into my space called The Changing Room and there will be pieces of clothing that visitors have to put on, to experience the second half of the show. CW: Is this playing into the idea of the performing self, using the transformative power of clothes? OY: Yes, and that’s the connection to the show at Ikon. It’s really about women’s spaces – how they navigate these spaces – especially when they’re migrant, or non-white.
CW: Entering the space as a white, western person, you’re immediately confronted with your own privilege. It’s also, in a way, subverting our colonial Orientalism – how we in the west exoticise eastern cultures – and particularly eastern women – but in your films they were exoticising us; they’re as misinformed about the west, as we are of the east, with our assumptions and interpretations of their culture, but from a place of lesser privilege.
CW: Growing up in a migrant community has clearly affected the thinking behind your practice. What are some of the most memorable experiences you encountered? OY: I grew up in this crazy, red-light district in Balsall Heath [Birmingham], with 500 prostitutes. It was the biggest red-light district in the ’90s. It’s also actually where [David] Cameron’s Big Society was born. Cameron came and stayed in Balsall Health, at the house of one
OY: This idea of Aryan beauty as a mythical creature yes. CW: Narratives of the self were very prevalent in the exhibition…
of the leaders who moved the prostitutes off the streets. My community was very segregated – the women wouldn’t go out; they wouldn’t even answer the door. When we were kids we used to call them ‘ninjas,’ because they were all in black, completely covered. We all lived in patriarchal systems, but the women were so strong – [despite being] in abusive relationships, or facing domestic violence – a lot of them carved out their own spaces. There was always chatter about the whites sending us ‘back’. We always used to say, ‘No, I was born here!’ But the older guys would also tell us we would be sent back. In the ’80s it was really prominent. I’m doing some research at the moment – there are all the old newspapers in Birmingham City Library, with headlines like ‘Too Many, Too Late,’ ‘Finding Jobs for Men with No Future,’ ‘Migrant Happiness is Brown.’ CW: Were parts of the Migrant Festival you curated recently in any of the migrant community areas? OY: No, it was all central. I wanted it to have a national focus, and it could very easily have become too local. I think we’ll do it every year now. There are big changes happening, certain paradigm shifts in the way we’re seeing ourselves, and who dictates who we are, especially in this age of Brexit and Trump. CW: When you started working in fashion, did you ever feel as though you were taking the wrong path? OY: If I hadn’t been growing up here in the UK, I probably would have done four or five grades of school; I’d have then just started working, and my life would be very different. I’d be married with several children, even grandchildren by now – my mum was 13 when she married. Also, clothing design wasn’t really seen an appropriate thing for a man to do, not in the culture that my parents were born into. My dad comes from generations of carpenters – it’s something that’s handed down, a family craft or a trade. So, yes, it’s been a difficult journey, and it’s taken a while to feel differently. I think creativity is often a very middle class luxury – this whole idea of wanting to be creative is quite privileged. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have active conversations, whereas my learning was parrot learning. After school was the Mosque,
then after Mosque it continued at home. Everything’s set-up and compartmentalised for you. There’s no focus on the individual – it’s very much about extended family – you’re only an individual within a unit. CW: In western white British culture, we’re often encouraged and educated to conform to the notion of rugged individualism. OY: Absolutely. In migrating you’re experiencing two distinctly juxtaposing customs. CW: It’s clear that your background study in anthropology has informed both your practice and your understanding of yourself and your position, culturally. OY: It definitely has – the idea of groups especially, and the tribalism of fashion. Most people partake in fashion in some way or another – even with the type of decision that lasts only a short period of time, you’re forced to reflect on what you see in the mirror, and ask, ‘Is this a better version of myself?’ Is it hiding parts you want to hide, and showing parts you want to show? Those are conversations that you can only have with yourself. You can wear a uniform, or dress as a form of escapism. I think dress is so important to keep people under control too. It’s been used to control in so many cultures: the Marxist uniform, Presbyterianism, Islam and Judaic religions, where you have to identify yourself as belonging to a tribe or clan, even colour. CW: Do you consciously incorporate any social identifiers from your upbringing into your design? OY: In our communities, men were always neutral, and women were these wonderful, colourful creatures – allowed so much expression, but at the same time very caged. I recently saw a video of men imitating women – they’re straight men, and because there are no women present, they dress up as women and dance in a very sexualised way for other straight men. [Shows video] CW: It’s a telling commentary on masculine and feminine permissions. These men are taking the symbolism of the woman – using a hijab and being able to remove it amidst a sexually-charged performance in
a public space – but are facing none of the repercussions a woman would. OY: Yes, exactly. The idea that this woman comes into the space and they’re allowed to be so free with her, and this soft porn – simulated sex – is permitted because he’s a man. CW: Can we just touch on your collaborative work, and showcasing your peers’ talents OY: I put together The Collective, which is like an exhibition within a book, and, following that, The House of Osman, which is a 3D version of The Collective. It’s a platform for different people – pieces by friends and creative acquaintances – and there’s no editorial control, nothing. With The House... I have different friends who can take over the space… It has to be a living space. It’s about creating your own community. CW: There’s an undercurrent of kinship in each aspect of your practice: your clothes are designed for a very specific woman; your exhibition was entirely focused on your community upbringing and all of your extra-curricular activity revolves around collaboration. OY: It has to be – I think it’s the only way forward.
Osman Yousefzada, Being Somewhere Else was at Ikon, Birmingham, 6 June – 29 June 2018 ikon-gallery.org osmanlondon.com
first spread: Being Somewhere Else, Osman Yousefzada, installation at Ikon Gallery, 2018.; courtesy Ikon Gallery; photo Handover Agency current spread: Being Somewhere Else, Osman Yousefzada, installation Ikon Gallery, 2018, courtesy Ikon Gallery; photo Handover Agency
۞,.-~*'¨¯¨'*·~-.¸-(_ (Č R U Ĩ S I N G 4 D I O N Y Ś U S _)-,.-~*’¨¯¨'*·~-.¸ ۞ Gareth Chambers' <3 <3 recent performance EXCESS had three dancers writhing, pulsing + sweating to pounding music, slipping between spectators, leaving them unsure as to whether to join in. Chambers’ artistic practice opens up spaces that are usually only occupied by queers – a contentious term but one that Chambers both embraces + challenges. Here he shares candid, highly personal diary excerpts about his cruising experiences. Chambers is not out to shock, just familiarise and acquaint.
¸„.-•~¹°”ˆ˜¨ ⑬ MARCH 2018 ¨˜ˆ”°¹~•-.„¸
i appreciated it fully. Followed a chubby rugby type guy
eye contact chicken with the Str8 guys
who was giving me thee eye, wasn’t really my type but nevertheless I followed He stood next to a tall ginger guy with a hard d A business dad who was on his way out walked back in gave his hands a looooongwash at the basin Just staring
RULES are simple
walk a head + if a guy looks at u
Had 2 go 2 chapter 4 a meeting walked thru Queen st one of my fav games to play is
keep looking (maintain eye contact)
.o0×X×0o. ⑮ MARCH 2018 .o0×X×0o.
see how long it lasts v fun
but i did nearly get beaten up by a guy in bow once
❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀Cardiff has a beautiful park❀❀❀❀❀❀
- part Ⅱ -
its massive, seems to go on and on for ever FIELDS OF ELYSIUM ☀☀
Went into the shopping centre and hung outside the bogs
During the day it’s home to tourists
being such a fast paced walker i had time to kill.
dogs and office workers eating their boots meal deals
loads of guys in suit im really into all that,
when the suns sets
all about discipline and control
it transforms into a jungle of pure delights / pleasure
Darkness fights back apollonian❂❂❂❂❂ light allowing us to return to beastly bodies + the mystery of the night.
i remember queuing up 4 a party once +
all is up 4 grabs
seeing this banker type change from his v expensive suit into full on bondage wear.
Not being able to see… allows for pre-concieved prejudices to
dissolve. We are all in it 2GEVA in the communal.
body into the strong shape it used to be
I was feeling v st sebastian today + practically tied myself to an oak tree near the river and waited 4 the ↟↟↟↟↟↟↟↟of men. Which were plenty
I WANT 2 have more sex ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡
all individual as the next one
no 1 goes to feel healthy
Gyms are v sexually charged places
they go to make their bodies attractive
my eyes glaze over at times kinda like st teresa in that lusty sculpture by bellini….
It’s 4 other peoples eyes, not 4 the sake of your bod wish people would be more honest about that one tbh
more more gimme more,
B4 i went to the gym I dropped by the public toilet inside the old shopping centre
i WANT 2 be a vessel, WANT 2 take it all
i saw from far away a slim, young twink leaving it so I knew it wasn’t closed
why can’t there be more moments like this? moments of excess, 2 2 much.
Got inside and there were two builder guys by the urinals + one guy drying his hands. Pissed in the cubicle and when I came out
The leaves and vines are very romantic for me like they are in on it too. providing smells/fragrances to heighten the mood
the 3 guys were still there + the boy had come back gave me that look. ↗↗↗↗↗
poppers and foliage
The place stank of piss and bleach so I don’t know how those guys can stand to stay for so long – or maybe there’s somewhere nearby to take guys??????
there is something joyful about getting muddy and dirty i find it funny that men look 4 luv and sex in places of dirt amongst the worms, dead leaves, mulch and dog shit
not that sauna i hope, fucking hate saunas. just not my flava, something about FORCED EROTOCISM what’s the point if there isn’t an element of danger, illegality???
i feel very instinctive in the park, relying on my wits and psychic energy
Q U E E R S are gunna be judged anyway. so why not do it in the faces of the oppressors???
rationality goes out the window tbh. its mediative and always allows me to relax . i walked home covered in substances like a d monster of the woods.
↫↫↫↫↫ ⑳ + ⑥ MARCH 2018 ↬↬↬↬↬
I spent the last few days in East London ••¤(`×[¤ ⑱ MARCH 2018 ¤]×´)¤••
staying wiv my mate Gary On, on the way there, I decided to hop off the Victoria line /around 1.30pm/ check out Euston Station’s toilets
I’ve joined a gym in Splott It’s nearly one years since I’ve had a membership
But there were 2 guys by the urinals – a skinny older guy with glasses standing to the right and a young guy to the left
I feel like it’s finally time to get back into exercise and build my
I chose the urinal beside the young guy but he quickly zipped up and left
According to Q U E E R ☿legend/mythology ☿the marshes are rammed this time of night
So i was standing there
swamp lusting. I was shivering with anticipation
trying to piss
The streets were deserted omg i was shaking
when another older guy joins us Skinny as well, white hair, blue eyes
At one of the marshes entrance a straight couple were sitting on a park bench, romancing. From the lucky shadows walked out a young pair of guys .
He reminded me of a dad from years ago that used to cruise that toilet, ugly as sin and with missing teeth, but who had the biggest D in the world
Then inoticed a shadow moving behind a tree, like some spectre from a disney film– an older guy.
(I really wanted to worship IT!!)
He soon walked away.
This one was alright looking, in a grey jumper and tight fitting jeans.
The marshes were completely dark, you couldn’t see anything in front of you. I walked in, kinda afraid someone would jump* on me and try to rob me…
So I kept staring at him and he looked back. Soon we were playing to each other… ALL ABOUT THE EYE CONTACT BBY
this excited me even more
I decided to move closer and take the urinal by his side. The other guy meanwhile was frenetically FLAGGING Two more guys came in – blonde and young. One of them was beautiful, with cropped hair and nice muscles. V germanic. luv it.
(F L A S H B A C K) *I remember once i was caught shoplifting in boots. couldn’t help myself with the expensive face creams. Im a vain little queen at times. anyway the non uniformed guards were really really rough with me. They loved the power i thought. Calling me some choices words when i protested at their roughness. It surprised me how much of a good time i was HAVING in this tiny room in the back of boots. power + control. i just found it soooo relaxing, being detained. it’s awful really!!!!
-ⅡThe daddy and I was playing asked if I’d like to follow him outside 2 a nearby pub.
Everything was quiet.
+I wanted to but I apologised and said I was going somewhere, couldn’t stay.
i could barely discern the path ahead + the trees My feet were soaked
i love playing the tease, who needs cocaine when u go play that role for free.
i decided it was probably best to return to the lit street where everything was all so suburban. – HOW WOULD I EXPLAIN 2 MY MATES IF I GOT MUGGED????
but it’s not my last visit to the park
Later that night, still ✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧BEASTIAL ✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧✧
I excused myself from my mates + went for a stroll. This was around 11.30pm| My mates lives near Hackney Marshes|
๑۞๑,¸¸,ø¤º°`°๑۩ ⑩ APRIL 2018 ๑۩ ,¸¸,ø¤º°`°๑۞๑
(F L A S H B A C K) went back to this guy’s hotel, he was egyptian and a throat surgeon. no bedside manner here. He slapped the hell out of me!!! V rough, sooo aggressive and dominant. He was loving every minute of it 2. He slapped quite hard on my t face and arse, pulled my hair, whacked me wit a belt, spat in my mouth/face and the PISS D RESISTANCE 2 finish. Had quite a nice chat afterwards about israel and palastine.
i sometimes think Cardiff is SEXually depressed/repressed It’s so obvs!! ! really fun tho
Cycled back home 2 splott with the biggest grin on my face, soooo relaxing, who needs yoga when u can have a bit of rough play??? it has exactly the same effect.EVERYONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED 2 LOSE CONTROL + BE PASSIVE, it’s like you’ve escaped 4 a few hours.
You only need to walk down st marys st on a saturday night 2 see it!! FUCK SAKE All these valley boys in very homoerotic garb EVERYTHING bulging
did notice my housemate clock the massive welt on my neck. ஜ۩۞۩ஜ ⑯ APRIL 18 ஜ۩۞۩ஜ
4 fun i decided to go in to one of those nondescript STR8 bars. / real talk no Q U E E R folks go in them/ ofcourse here come the weird stares of puzzlement from both sexes. here and Q U E E R bbydon’t u forget it. i’m on my own, emboldened by weed and curiosity i cruise the dance floor….sooo many men. smelly testosterone. and if i being honest i get more shade/ dirty vibez from women… dunno what that means but i have a few ideas.
I’m going 2 stop sucking off the fellas at my gym.☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹ ☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹ ☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹ ☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹☹ It’s just gets weird + also don’t want to get kicked out by getting caught
dancing is easier in str8 places, i like it v much, very performative, there is a definite separation in regards to movement… i can almost physically see these guys REALLY wanting to go 4 it, u know shake it around. but they pull back at the last minute….
it happened b4 in pineapple dance studios a few years a back never went back after that!!
i went to bute park straight across from town coz i felt 2 exposed
probably will be a thing 4 gossip 4 sum years 2 cum
i climbed the fence at sophia gardens. pitch black, cold and wet. i didn’t have my glasses on, which kinda scares me!
i can’t fucking see. could’ve been murdered there ㋛㋛㋛㋛㋛㋛㋛ ㋛ + then.
found floatin in the river come the morning.
he’s around 65 arrived at the same time as me
i didn’t care, neva do, i like riding my senses, being on alert, good 4 the skin i think
he stared at me open-mouthed in the changing room
the bushes were a hive of activity, beastial grunting + shaking branches.
feel bad about it really but last time i went there i soooooo stoned around the weights we crossed eyes once in a while and at one point he sat next to me
wot will i find???
i could smell his fag breath
could see from the get go that it was all a bit of bullshit
he was watching me all the time
if ur sneaky u can do what u like
waiting to follow me back to the showers when i was done.
u owe no one anything.
i ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡the attention really
-Ⅱtried to slip out unnoticed but, a few minutes later when I was showering (in a private cubicle) he came up and took one of the showers in the open area. I dunno… there was something pathetic about him. i did the right thing avoiding him. he just didn’t hav that energy which gets me going… cruising doesn’t work wiv desperation. u need the opposite. power + directness. n room 4 self doubt.
being in cardiff its v easy to ‘bump’ into welsh celebs e.g Pobol y cwm, rugby players and MPS/ASMS there is a sauna on the outskirts of Newport on some grotty industrial estate which looks like the VIP room of the Welsh baftas on a sunday eve. …
i betta keep 2 myself from now on just concentrate on MY work out and not let big fat cocks get the better of me. which they always do, cant i just go 2 an all female gym???
a who’s who’s of welsh telly. ??????? ????????????♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
i just luv gyms, sum thing ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩv greek/ romanΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ about them
personally not a fan of saunas something v forced about them all that weird lighting… i know ofc that guys go there just for sex etc
the other day i saw police men in the evening busting a young queen in the train station toilets (maybe 4 something unrelated to cruising). i stopped by the the shopping centre/cinema toilets + it was full of guys – pissing, i smelt HD.
but there is something really sad about it all ya don’t need 2 pay about £15 to fuck. ofcourse such spaces were important in a time of police raids etc.
ღ(¯`◕‿◕´¯) ♫ ♪ ♫ ⑳ ⑤ April 18 ♫ ♪ ♫ (¯`◕‿◕´¯)ღ
back in the 1950s police would purposely use good looking big dicked plain clothes officers to catch queers cruising in the parks/bogs awful really
spent last night in the park again… ☻☻☻☻☻☻☻☻☻ can literally just get lost there 4 hours n hours,
i have read accounts that some of the officers were more than happy 2 oblige…
those days are gone now i think
it just goes on 4eva and ever
i rarely am worried about getting arrested etc.
one big playground of fun amongst the ugly builders of this town.
tbh i would quite like it ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
most of the guys i stumble on are office types who are usually married. i don’t blame them 4 wanting release.
police men these days are soooo power hungry +
get away from the mundane family life which they have found themselves in from being good boys at school.
love any chance to flex their power muscles
i knew early on that such a life wasn’t 4 me ⌧⌧⌧⌧⌧⌧
minus my glasses which is a bad idea
so there i was in the park about 3am
i can’t see fuck all.
.•°¤*(¯`★´¯)*¤° ⑬ May 18 °¤*(¯´★`¯)*¤°•.
but i did see quite famous up and coming MP later wiki research is happily married
cruised wiv this guy in town 4 like 45 mins
he was watching some group action.
i clocked him whilst i was leaving tkmaxx
perhaps it was all look + don’t touch 4 him???
grey joggers and MASSIVE bulge we made eye contact sharing potential desires
his eyes were bulging out of their sockets like a manga film character who is furious.
he was on his phone + we stared + stared. so i followed him as he walked up queen♕♕♕♕ st
`•.,¸¸,.•´¯ ⑧ May 18 ¯`•.,¸¸,.•´
His bulge and bulge getting bigger very obvious.
spent fucking hours today cruising in town
surely ppl see it?
should be working really
from wot i could tell they couldn’t
we orbited each other 4 a while
hung out at the old library always one of my fav spots 4 the fellas today was the reason why a bus driver needed 2 forget about his wife for 30 mins
eye contact is key really so we walked and walked.i tried my hardest to get him into bute park but he wasn’t playin or into the idea of that. 2 REAL 4 HIM which is sometimes the case much to my annoyance. fucking tease, str8 guys luv to play the looking game. they aint Q U E E R then.
i happily provided dirty bastard. there is room in a berlin club which caters 4 that particular smell tho
it was drivin me mad but i couldn’t play this game 4eva i have shit to do. as much as i would like 2 drain his dick… i gotta werk. ❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀❀
The changing room was busy after 2 i went to the showers + came face 2 face with some intenselooking guy eyeballing me im not into that tbh, not my thing plus i will neva forget my mate telling me that years ago he mistook this intensity 4 the guy being horny. got his head kicked
Photographer: Noel Le Conte EXCESS was at Chapter, Cardiff 28 June 2018
i left cba wit that
Crudely Plucking the Strings It had been raining for 3 days straight. I punctuated my journey down the A38 with a too-hot cup of coffee and a limp triangle of buttered toast that left a fine film of grease on my hands. Working for Lockheed Martin, which operated throughout the country and overseas, meant my company car acted as an itinerant office and the chapters of my life frequently found themselves arranged around such inbetweens; motorway cafes, inner-city budget hotels and airport lounges. I edged the nose of my vehicle back onto the road. Successive sets of headlights exploded out of the increasingly dense downpour. I accelerated. The rain lashed at my windscreen. My wipers, ineffective against the onslaught, flailed from side to side like the trees that lined the road. The rhythmic drag of rubber on glass made my stomach turn. A swollen body of water entered my periphery. The Bristol Channel, so furiously pummelled by rain that its surface appeared to boil. As a young girl, my grandmother had told me stories of how giants had formed The Channel. Mocked by humans, called unclean and foul, the giants had waded into the ocean to bathe. Their vast bodies displaced so much water that the villages, whose inhabitants had tormented them, were flooded, permanently cleaving Wales from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. I pulled up to the entrance of Hinkley Point C. A security guard struggled towards me, shrouded in a flimsy, Hazchem-yellow poncho. His shouted instructions were torn from his lips by the escalating gale. I flashed an ID card and he gratefully retreated to the adjacent booth, raised the barrier and waved me through. The power station throbbed. Cooling towers belched steam skywards, trying in vain to compel the rising waters to return whence they came. Entering the brightly lit lobby, I shed my coat and disposed of my umbrella. The latter had been reduced to a knot of buckled metal and shredded textile in the seconds it had taken me to cross the car park. Wiping myself down with a stale tissue, I hurried towards meeting room 3B. Navigating the cavernous corridors, my stout heels played out a staccato beat. Unclasping my bag, I fished around for the relevant documents. Amongst the litter of paperwork, I grasped the latest iteration of my resignation letter. Unsent, of course, it was the progeny of countless drafts. A lifejacket, primed for deployment if the current became too strong. A feeble excuse for my complicity. Truly, I deserved to drown. I took my seat. Arranged papers at right angles. Nodded and made notes. We were here to discuss the innumerable failings of Hinkley Point C. Output. Delays. Efficiency. Safety. Contamination. I indulged in the malaise, whilst my feckless colleagues brewed coffee, spewed jargon and expectorated economic forecasts, wilfully blind to anything that might impact their bottom line. “Who knows? A meltdown might even be good for business,” smirked one disciple. “Supply and demand, you know?” “Either way, PR will handle it.” The congregation murmured in agreement. The clock ticked towards 12. A siren began to wail. ***
An incoming wave, of mountainous scale, shattered the brittle boundary that delineated land from sea. That night, the earth soaked in a soup of nuclear fission. By morning, the downpour had begun to ebb, giving way to drizzle, which in turn was replaced by steadily dissipating cloud formations. Particle-refracted light crept through the growing gaps, bathing the deceptively tranquil scene in an orange glow. I sat atop a once-hill, now-island, sole inhabitant of the fortuitous protrusion. Others basked; bloated bodies floating in the swill of shattered atomic matter. I shuddered, placed my head between my knees and held back the vomit. Foraging in my bag, I withdrew my resignation letter. An emblem of my own failure to act. Despite great intelligence and intellect, we had been incapable of curtailing our excesses to avoid annihilation. Such poverty of the imagination would have been laughable, if I hadn't been staring down at a toxic swamp of consequence. How had we been unable to think of and implement an alternative? So enamoured with our own genius, we'd failed to recognise the limitations of our knowledge; nor had we learnt to value the knowledge we couldn't quantify. The cold breeze cut through my damp, dishevelled suit. I folded my letter into a simple, origami boat and floated it on the water. My own pathetic ark. I thought of Genesis and Gilgamesh; stories that had sought to moralise otherwise senseless disasters. However, even after all life had been wiped out, each simply reproduced what had come before. So, what might my vessel bear? I took out a pen and began to write. 'We thought we were playing God. We were crudely plucking the strings...'
Chris Alton's Billboard Commission for Spit & Sawdust, Cardiff, re-imagines the 1607 flood of the Bristol Channel, which some believe to have been caused by a tsunami. Over 2,000 people lost their lives; houses, villages, towns were swept away, and local economies destroyed – Cardiff suffered the most. Alton has used a woodcut print – one of the only surviving visual representations of the disastrous event – as inspiration for his own, speculative reworking of the image. Cardiff's St. Mary's Church, the original woodcut's focal point, has been replaced by Hinkley Point C, the massive nuclear power station being constructed on a near precipice edge on the south bank of the Channel. Alton's work makes wry commentary on the fixation with nuclear power as an answer to climate change.
Spit & Sawdust is an artist-led space in Cardiff, comprising of a skatepark, café and artist studios, with a public programme of events, projects and residencies. The Billboard Commission is currently curated by Freya Dooley and supported by the Arts Council of Wales. Chris Alton: Crudely Plucking the Strings is at Spit & Sawdust until 12 November 2018 spitandsawdust.co.uk chrisalton.com
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