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An Independent Perspective on the Arts An Independent Perspective CCQ ÂŁ4.95

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Issue 3,on 2014 ÂŁ4.95 the Arts

9 772053 688009

ISSN 2053-6887

TOTAL IMMERSION Mirza & Butler |

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Joyce Pensato Ingrid Murphy Claire Curneen Neale Howells Kim Fielding Veronica Feeling Contains*: 1 turquoise motorbike, 1 applecart; 1 gorilla, 2 garden gnomes, 1 two-headed lamb, 1 gun (*contents may shift in transit)


Editor: Emma Geliot Deputy Editor: Ric Bower Art Director: Russell Britton Web Management: Richard Bowers Distribution Manager: David Kirk Chief Sub Editor: Leslie Herman Sub Editor: David Sinden

Address: 17, Cawnpore St, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan CF64 2JU T:+44 (0)7966 501473 www.ccqmagazine.com

Shani RhysJames by Andrea Liggins

Distribution: CoMag Specialist, 01895 433600 Central Books, 0845 4589911 Contacts: Editor: editor@ccqmagazine.com Deputy Editor: deped@ccqmagazine.com General Enquiries: info@ccqmagazine.com Advertising: sales@ccqmagazine.com Distribution: distribution@ccqmagazine.com Subscriptions: subscriptions@ccqmagazine.com Printed by: Symposium Print Ltd. 27g-27h Vale Business Park, Llandow CF71 7FP www.symposiumprint.co.uk Join Us On-Line For more news, features, reviews, previews, comprehensive listings and lots, lots more join us at ccqmagazine.com

Thanks to all of the contributors, individuals and organisations who worked with CCQ for this issue. Legals: As an arts magazine we take the intellectual property rights of our contributors very seriously. All copyright in this issue belongs to the authors or originators of the material and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the author. Unless otherwise stated, all material has been produced by or for CCQ Magazine. We take great care to ensure that information within the magazine is accurate and fair, but opinions stated within this issue are those of the author and not necessarily of CCQ Magazine or the publishers, Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd. If you find something that is inaccurate or misleading please let us know, and we will attempt to remedy any errors on our part at the earliest opportunity, either in print or on-line. Culture Colony Quarterly (CCQ) Magazine is published by Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd, a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales. Company no: 08634632

Corrections: Our apologies to David Oprava, Katerina Athanasopoulou and Tara McInerney, whose names we misspelled in issue 2. We also miscredited the images on p66 and p67 in our feature on Sluice Art Fair. These should read: 1) Detail from The Royal Standard, photograph: Ric Bower 2) performance xvi Collective, Image courtesy of Sluice Art Fair 3) British Racing Green performance, photograph: Emma Geliot 4) Performance xvi Collective, photograph: Emma Geliot

above: House, Claire Curneen, 2013, terracotta Courtesy of Ruthin Crafts Centre and Mission Gallery. Photos by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. On The Cover: Karen Mirza and Brad Butler Photography by Ric Bower Art Direction by Danielle Rees

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Reviews

Editor’s Letter Welcome to CCQ Issue 3. Come on in but don’t get too comfy because we’re on the move with a series of features that will take you back in time, or deep into the psyches of the featured artists. So, put an apple and a compass into your spotted hankie, tie it to a stick and follow us as we: trail Veronica Feeling on her big blue motorbike; walk across Europe to find history with Michal Iwanowski or democratic landscape with Paul Gaffney; leave on a jet plane for New York where Richard Higlett meets a gorilla (who gets him thinking about looking at art) and see Rawley Clay and Tim Halewood’s performance in Croatia that left a trail of apples and piqued the interest of the local police. Theatre maker James Tyson is no stranger to a spot of globe-trotting, and he has rounded up some of the most interesting performers for the first International Performance Festival Cardiff. He tells us why.

So much for the geographical jaunts, we’re also going on other journeys down the microscope and into the brain, rummaging through bizarre collections of objects, probing the human psyche and tapping at bones for An Alliance with Science, a feature that looks at what happens when artists and scientists get together. But if access to research, collections and stateof-the-art equipment opens up lines of enquiry, it’s often the relationship with making and materials that sustains artists of all kinds: David Oprava waxes lyrical about paper and ink and a singular passion for bookmaking that has built up a fan base for a tiny press in Pembrokeshire; Andrew Cooper’s fascination with glass, moving image and audience interaction led to an extraordinary project, and Simon Fenoulhet got to see some magical matter at The Institute of Making. Material also matters to Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy, while the two work with clay in quite different practices, Catherine Roche establishes some common ground as they look back on how they’ve evolved as ceramicists.

Andrea Liggins Artist/photographer/educator Andrea often works with a plastic camera to create ethereally beautiful images, which playfully disrupt perceptions of our environment. We sent her to meet Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy and a connection was made. Out of that meeting came the image featured on p53.

Catherine is an artist and lecturer in Fine Art at the School of Creative Arts, Coleg Sir Gar, Carmarthen. She is also a freelance writer based in Cardiff and has contributed to various publications including Ceramic Review, Ceramics: Art and Perception, New Ceramics, Sync Tank and a-n News. She talks to Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy about the shared areas of interest in two very different ceramic practices (p46).

Richard Bowers Richard Bowers is an artist whose work often draws on, or references, cinematic conventions and themes, He has also worked with scientists to develop projects that link the visual and the psychological. In this issue he reviews Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen (P76), but he also pops up in An Alliance With Science talking to Alison Stokes about some of his work with scientists. http://www.richardbowers.co.uk

Paul Gaffney

ABOUT ME:

Paul Gaffney is an Irish artist who is currently undertaking a practice-based PHD in photography at the University of Ulster in Belfast. He has been nominated for various international awards including the European Publishers Award for Photography. In We Make a Path by Walking (P24) he talks about a photographic project that took him across Europe.

David Oprava

Veronica Feeling Veronica is a middle-aged woman of middle intelligence and middle allure. In 2013 various events led her onto the open road; riding an extremely fast classic sports tourer, she appeared as herself in 22 countries and at 5 biennales. She specialises in a subtle form of cognitive dissonance easily missed in the face of a yellow leather camel toe. Read some of her tales from the white lines on p14. www.veronicafeeling.com

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Emma editor@ccqmag.com This issue is dedicated to the memory of Kim Fielding, whose sudden death in February sent shock waves across the globe to the many people he’d worked with and ultimately befriended. Simon Mitchell, Co-founder of the tactileBOSCH enterprise, pays tribute to an extraordinary character.

Jaako Hands, Kim Fielding

Contributors

Catherine Roche

Curneen and Murphy are long time friends, but artists Neale Howells and Joyce Pensato live on different continents and have never met, yet they share an appropriation of popular iconography and a love of the grand scale, while Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, shortlisted for the Artes Mundi Prize, live, work and think together in a practice that is a way of life. And if you’ve struggled with the creative process yourself, you’ll be reassured by Laura Sorvala’s end piece that highlights some of the conundrums of art production.

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An Independent Perspective on the Arts

Contents Issue 3 Features 6 – 13

38 – 41

Well Smack My Melon and Call Me Jesus — a tribute to Kim Fielding, a true original

Material Matters — Simon Fenoulhet meets some extraordinary materials

14 – 17

42 – 45

Veronica Feeling —The diary of a motorcycle adventurer

Through a Glass Darkly — Andrew Cooper and a passion for glass

18 – 19 The Bride of the Bronx Zoo — Richard Higlett goes to New York and meets a gorilla

20 – 23 Clear of People — Michal Iwanowski retraces an epic 2000km route to freedom

24 – 27 We Make the Path by Walking — Paul Gaffney photographs the unremarked

28 – 29 Performance Criteria — James Tyson and the new International Festival of Performance

30 – 37

46 – 53 An In-between Space — Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy find common ground

54 – 61 Total Immersion — Meet Mirza & Butler, two artists who live, work and think together

Finally 81 Don’t Upset the Applecart — Rawley Clay and Tim Halewood in Croatia

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Blackheath Books — Incessant Mainstream Specialness

76 – 77

Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen

78 – 79

83 Creative Process — Laura Sorvala

Blodeuwedd

80 Bedwyr Williams and Mike Smith — Funny Business

62 – 69 Beaten Down — Joyce Pensato takes her re-workings of popular icons to a grand scale

70 – 75 Locked in Conflict — Neale Howells wrestles with paint in the shadow of the steelworks Veronica Feeling amongst her People, portrait: Ric Bower

An Alliance with Science — a special feature looking at collaborations between artists and scientists

For more news join us at www.ccqmagazine.com — 5


Features

Well, Smack My Melon and Call Me Kim Fielding! The sudden and untimely death of artist, arch ‘instictator’ * and extraordinary character Kim Fielding threw the many thousands of his friends and collaborators into deep mourning. Artist Simon Mitchell, co-founder of the artists’ space tactileBOSCH, attempts to pin down what drove Fielding and to reflect on the legacy that began in his lifetime. *Editor’s note: Kim Fielding described himself as “an instictator”, a hybrid of instigator and dictator

‘Well smack my melon and call me Jesus!’ was just one of the many ‘barking’ phrases frequently repeated throughout Kim’s life. His American tinged baroque take on the English language could make his text messages utterly undecipherable. It did, however, lead to some of the greatest exhibition titles I’ve ever come across and a business card printed with the words ‘Kim Fielding is… dark, red and sticky’. Kim developed his mid Atlantic dialect having left Wales at a young age, spending several years on the West Coast of America before heading east and settling in New York City. That time in Kim’s life is for someone else to write about but it’s clear from the stories he told, both hilariously funny and painfully sad, that this period was an enormous influence on making him the person and artist that I came to know so well. It had given him a confidence and a drive that, coupled with his flamboyant personality, made for a very unique character. We first met in the Howard Gardens art school bar in Cardiff. He was working on a series of photographs called ‘Your Head on my Box’, an ongoing project that cropped up in the most unlikely of places. He would usher people into a darkened room, drape them in black cloth and rest their chin on a light box. Then between snorts of laughter and a few encouraging words - ‘smile darlink. Think of Wales!’ - he would fire off a whole roll of film in rapid succession. 6 — Issue 03

That particular series of photographs, which must number in the thousands, encapsulates many of the traits and themes that ran through Kim’s art and life: his ability to meet people and immediately make friends; to make the shyest of people feel at ease; his prolific use of a camera and his desire to be continually creative in any manner possible. It’s common now for us to discuss the blurring of boundaries between artworks and the lives of those who make them, there are many examples of artists who encourage this as part of their practice. With Kim, however, it was involuntary, an entirely natural process. Every moment of Kim’s day became part of his expanding oeuvre: curating group exhibitions; photographing bands (see Heavy Quartet album cover for more floating heads); making connections with people across the globe; throwing parties; cooking breakfast; photographing weddings (I assisted him at one where he instigated the light box project and the grandmother of the bride was first to place her chin on his box) were all as much a part of his artistic practice as the days spent in the studio with a mouldy plastic toy he’d discover down a back alley. There was humour in the images that Kim created. Humour and ‘sexiness’ are readily apparent when scanning across his back catalogue of exhibited works. There’s also a more sombre, introspective narrative that reflects the ‘darker’, ‘redder’, ‘stickier’ aspects of Kim’s life. Challenges he had fought and won and perhaps others he was still battling. In one particular video work he confronted death head on. A wingbacked chair (taken from a skip outside an old people’s home) is viewed from above as it slowly spirals and descends towards a rocky beach from the cliffs above, looping back to the start right at the moment of impact. A memory of his much loved grandmother, in consideration of his own mortality, a chance taken in one shot and a day out to the beach with friends. It’s all in that piece for me; it’s how I will remember Kim’s art. Bringing people together and encouraging creativity in others is what Kim loved to do and what drove him to work with such unerring ferocity. He found the perfect vehicle for these activities when we opened the doors to tactileBOSCH studios back in 2000. I’d been looking for a studio with fellow artist Mauro

Bonacina for a couple of weeks with no success when Kim joined the search. His connections soon led us, after an initial disappointment in a former solicitor’s office, to an old Victorian laundry building on Andrew’s Road in Llandaff North. When asked what sort of space we were looking for, Kim had told the landlord we wanted it ‘as big as fuck and as cheap as fuck’ and we were duly delivered precisely that. Despite the leaking roof we were elated with what we had found and headed off down the pub to celebrate. I remember saying to Kim that I couldn’t believe we’d managed to get such a great space and that maybe we could not only use it as a studio but perhaps even put on shows. Kim looked at me in utter disbelief, for him this had been his intention all along and he was perplexed that I was only coming to that conclusion so late in the day. We spent a glorious summer clearing out the junk and patching up the roof. Kim was always sweeping, making coffee or taking copious photographs. He would invite new people to visit every day, creating a tremendous buzz around the building that inspired us all. Kim and I had things in common, our passion for art, partying, travelling and laughing copiously but the root of our friendship and the bond we formed developed from our differences. The name tactileBOSCH came about after several pints in the Heathcock pub in Llandaff and was intended to reflect those conflicting character traits between us. We joked over the years about which of us was tactile and which was BOSCH but never settled on an answer. Kim certainly had both elements, and many more. He was tactile; caring, supportive, warm, creative, affable. He was BOSCH: driven, fervent, competitive. All these things combined to make a force to be reckoned with and would propel the gallery through over ten years of successful projects both at home in Wales and across the globe. >>


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>> The first exhibition, in collaboration with our friends Tom and Al at More Front studios, titled ‘tactileBOSCH has More Front…’ took place in the summer of 2000 and set a precedent for future projects. Welsh artists exhibited alongside those from New York and Scandinavia, work by students was placed next to that of wellestablished artists and an array of disciplines from painting and sculpture to video, performance and live music were forcibly thrown into the mix. Curatorial rigour was replaced by energy, passion and enthusiasm all emanating from Kim’s own 12 — Issue 03

verve. Not content with bringing in artists from overseas, tactileBOSCH set about taking Welsh art back abroad. With the support of Wales Arts International alongside many other institutions and individuals Kim instigated projects in New York, South America and Berlin to name just a few. As before, these exhibitions would feature a broad mixture of artworks and helped to launch the careers of many aspiring artists. The boxes upon boxes of archived photographs

that were removed from Kim’s home and studios in the days following his death demonstrate that Kim was ahead of current trends where digital images are taken in ever increasing quantities. He documented the lives of those around him, and in doing so his own life too. Spanning numerous continents and several decades he was one of the last and one of the first to this crossroads in a


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shifting photographic landscape. His images will become an important resource in remembering this period of history, but Kim leaves behind much more than just documentary ephemera. Kim’s legacy is in his desire to bring together creative people and help to expand everyone’s expectations of what they can achieve. This spirit continues across South Wales in spaces like Elysium in Swansea and BIT studios or British Racing Green in Cardiff. Such collective endeavors will undoubtedly help to keep alive the memory of Kim and all he achieved. Personally I will remember many things: The day we threw the chair off that cliff and nearly died in the process; the first trip to New York where he introduced me to many amazing friends; breakfast and coffee in the Brook St flat; the uncontrollable snorting and guffawing; the safety goggles as an accessory; the nicknames he gave himself and the rest of us. I will always remember Ffrank Ffoto, Unkle Fucker, The Pope of Pontcanna, Kim Alexander Fielding. Who knew? — CCQ

The friends and family of Kim are working to develop a legacy project in his honour. Ideas for an award aimed at benefiting the Welsh arts community are being developed, and will be announced in due course. Visit the website to find out more and to donate. kimfielding.org

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Pig Boy, Kim Fielding

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Duo, Kim Fielding

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James White, Kim Fielding

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Berlin Bomber, Kim Fielding

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Untitled, Kim Fielding

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Ikarus, Kim Fielding

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Heavy Quartet, album cover image, photography:Kim Fielding

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Head Clear, Kim Fielding

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Reviews

Veronica Feeling: Motorcycle Adventurer

9th July 2013, Cardiff The neighbours are either fighting or fucking, they can’t tell anymore, and the skin on my knuckles refuses to ping back no matter how hard I pull it. An old crone selling beans, dreams and motorbikes the colour of freedom has lit a fire; now I’m a chip pan on the edge. 98 horses hitched up outside, leather hanging limp in the hall, and I sit here boiling with indecision - not the fish-paste/luncheon meat variety, but the equally important leave tonight/live and die this way kind. The radio crackles into life without warning, spewing tales of false husbandry and leguminous disappointment that push me over the threshold. I zip my factory floor jacket to its partner and swing a leg over the machine. There are no banners, no well-wishers or cakes. Just the quiet, rainy suburban streets. I go. So began a 10,000 mile odyssey into the green flash. Over the four months that followed it became clear that things had changed; Veronica Feeling had stuffed her last mushroom and offered her throat to the wolf with the hard shoulder. These are exclusive extracts from her previously unavailable road journals.

Panic attacks are more common in women of a certain age. One of the symptoms is you think you’re going to die. Words: Veronica Feeling

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20th July, Västervik, Sweden My hosts, A & A, live in a red brick, lakeside house with their two-year-old daughter and energetic Labrador. They are gracious and hospitable, offering me their stylish boat-house to sleep in; I can drop straight into the water from the decking. She is a striking woman with peroxide hair, silicon breasts, and a wealth of large tattoos. He is less remarkable, except there is an uncanny depth in his eyes at odds with his reserved manner. Over delicious wine and moose (cleanly shot and butchered by Mr A) we talk into the night about the fine line between passive acceptance and active resistance that must be walked in life. >>

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Smeared Lipstick, Veronica Feeling

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Veronica Feeling, on the Road: portrait:Ric Bower

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Veronica Feeling amongst her People, portrait: Ric Bower

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Veronica Feeling in Pool, Veronica Feeling

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>> She is a priest. He is an undertaker. Like many so many couples, they met at work. 27th July, Hamburg “One sticks a finger into the ground to smell what country one is in; I stick my finger into the world – it has no smell”. Søren Kierkegaard clearly didn’t write these words on the coastal road north of Lübeck on a breathless late July afternoon where the smell of cooking sausage is unmistakable, conjuring images of ample meat trays and neat rows of baps. It is arresting then, as you stagger across Gas Sand 7, to realise that the sausages are frying in Hawaiian Tropic and the rows of pre-buttered baps are magnificently relaxed. He goes on to wonder “Where am I? What does it mean to say ‘the world’?” Well, Søren, I am wherever I am, baby. And the world, whatever it means, is here too. Now pass the hot sauce.

have died willingly; I think I did a little, la petite mort. Sailing over the crest of a Slovenian hill: a vision of Arcadia, the perfect empty swooping road, bike + rider, easy, knowing, smooth like cream, an achingly heady sensation of omnipotence and insignificance, totally present, totally everywhere. 23rd August, Dalmatian Coast 2 a.m. The fisherman and his lover have packed up and left. Is there anyone for miles? It is so dark; the light from my dying phone is all I have. There are alien noises outside my flimsy beach tent and the wind is picking up. If the storm comes early I’ll have to ride along dirt tracks through the night or the mud will keep me here for a week. 8 a.m. Well, the storm came early; violent graveyard-shift scenes of torn trees with every lightning flash. An in-helmet, Bonnie Tyler stressworm screamed about needing a Euro (where

“The neighbours are either fighting or fucking, they can’t tell anymore. ”

18th August, Zagreb I could have died today. I don’t mean another near-death scrape around a misjudged corner, I mean my spirit swelled huge in my chest and soared up high - the way it does when you’re so in love even fear tastes good and rain shines like Swarovski. I mean, today I was so happy I could 16 — Issue 03

have all the good men gone?) as I skidded and wobbled along deteriorating paths, pitying my hastily bin-bagged electronics in the panniers and dimly recognising the foolhardy tool/job ratio in my bike choice. It is a lovely colour though and the inappropriateness reminds me of clearing a path through a Portuguese forest with a pair of scissors and a plastic broom in my nightie. 31st August, Tuzi, Montenegro Sunset in this little Balkan town and my shadow is longer than usual — if it’s escaping like an animal I’ve been sheltering then my internal zoo is a very odd place indeed. Several mosques are calling to prayer and behind the huge, firmly locked, ultra modern church there are chariot theatre props rotting amongst flowering cacti. A small, shabby, main square hosts at least seven bookmakers and bizarrely the only place to stay is a four star hotel with roof-top casino run by Montenegrins with Detroit accents. After a full


An Independent Perspective on the Arts

day’s ride I’m too tired to move on, so instead negotiate a 60 Euro room to 40 with Mike, who wears a sharkskin suit, tasselled loafers and is just about holding it together despite being impressively rakia-ed. Luxuriating with a sachet of shampoo under scented hot water, I wonder how my craps will go.

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5th September, Samokov, Bulgaria Border: frontier, boundary, partition, borderline, dividing line, perimeter, arbitrary incision, uniform opportunity, cash cow. Apologies for the insensitive sound effects, but from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina, 15km, WHOOSH, onwards yet back into Croatia, to Montenegro, BOOM, Albania, ZAP, Kosovo, POW, Macedonia, OOF, Bulgaria and relax; for a while no more humourless, one-size-fits-none, be-sunglassed young men in hastily constructed concrete boxes pulling figures out of their spreading arses in return for rubber stamps and hindered passage. I would sooner pay the fine that’s surely in the post for crimes against leather – my frontiers are bordering on the ridiculous and, yet, somewhere in this personal liminality or no-woman’s-land, there is a universal essence emerging. But it might just be the soup.

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16th September, Istanbul There is a German expression, einmal ist keinmal, which loosely translates as “once is never”; I am thinking about this and feeling other-than-never, having crossed the rush hour Bosporus in both directions. People told me it was insane to try to negotiate Istanbul on a bike on my own without a map, but I say we learn more from imitating than listening. Un-instructed, I copied other bikers’ kamikaze techniques on my brief trip to Asia — pinballing from lorry to barrier to lorry, dodging the bagel sellers, quickquick-slow, beeping once to move, twice to say thanks — for hours and hours; this city is VAST. And more than anywhere else I’ve been, it feels like a living creature, swallowing you, letting you wander around its red bits and gooey passages, threatening to digest you if you’re not careful. I want to know its rhythms, slide down its windpipe, backstroke along its aorta, lap from its tear ducts (in full flood, right now) and curl up in its belly button fluff. Istanbul is everything and more, it knows I’m coming back.

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28th September, Venice Remember the joke about two cannibals eating a clown and one says to the other, “does this taste funny?” Well, I can tell you now that no, he didn’t. — CCQ For the next adventure Veronica has turned her beloved motorbike into a mobile sound and vision installation, PANkino. In June 2014 she leaves for Ulaanbaatar, through the uncertainty of Russia, the sci-fi architecture of Kazakhstan and the roadless expanses of Mongolia.

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means more recent, living and famous only to those in the know. With 205 galleries from 29 countries represented there is a lot of recent and more recent art on display.

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The Bride of the Bronx Zoo Artist Richard Higlett went out to the United States to visit art fairs and museums but his journey is as much a philosophical one as a shift across the Earth’s geography. “Please switch off any electrical devices and stow the table in the upright position ” The rest is from memory. Yesterday I arrived in New York for the first time. Descending over the cracked, prehistoric permafrost of Greenland, Delta 0001 emerged out of the clouds to reveal the colourless shifting boundary of the Arctic Circle. Rivers began to change from vast plates of ice to twisted, matted, threads of temporary flowing water. A single road, economic and direct, stretched northwards to oil fields like the minute hand on a stopped clock. Below, to the south, my face against the window, I see this road begin to interact with parts of smaller gridded roads, arteries of concrete supporting hardened communities in Newfoundland. People living lives that, from this seat, are beyond my imagination; pockets of humanity huddled together amongst a deep grey tundra that is covered in the most hardy of flora and fauna. The roads twist and twitch southwest through a softer yet still frozen land and the plane picks out an entry point in the landscape. Below the Hudson River still accepts Atlantic salt water before it splinters east and people long dead decided where Canada ends and America begins. 18 — Issue 03

The pressure builds in my ears and the table is stowed in the upright position. The water beneath is now inky blue; beaches - torn scraps of sandpaper - accommodate ramshackle wooden bolt holes, weekend escapes from the Big Apple. A near 90 degree turn right at Rockaway, Coney Island on the left, we descend over marshes before skimming blocks of three story timber apartments and daylight-haunted houses with 1950s gothic charm. We touch down in JFK and return to present times, a present time minus 5 hours. My afternoon is once again my morning. Context… A man walks into a pet store and asks if he can buy a wasp. “I’m sorry sir but we don’t sell wasps” says the store keeper. “But you have one in the window” the visitor replies. I’ve remembered this joke on a number of occasions during my first visit to New York. When looking at common sparrows dancing on a branch in the spider monkey’s cage. Confused visitors gather around to witness the elusive monkey but he is below his cage in the warm on this day in early March at the Bronx Zoo. The Big Apple is in the final throes of winter and the wind chill is -12c. I’m also reminded of the wasp joke as I negotiate The Armory Show Art Fair at the 92nd and 94th Piers on Manhattan Island. It could be described as a zoo: the artists are strange, elusive and exotic creatures to the rest of society. The Armory’s enclosures are in the form of booths, each with their own aesthetic eco-climate, while I’m thinking that it’s really all about the rituals for viewing art, which are all based on the context in which it is framed . The Armory Show is one facet of New York Art week, a time of international Art Fairs such as Volta NY, Scope, The Independents, Spring Break, to name just a few. The Armory Show identity first appeared in 1913, showcasing the work of European modernists such as Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp. It is currently located in two huge warehouses on piers on the Upper Westside, looking out onto the Hudson River. Divided into two categories, Modern (Pier92) and Contemporary (Pier94). The division sounds initially problematic but ‘Modern’ tends to mean recent, famous and dead, while ‘Contemporary’

I’m visiting from a country where, unlike in the US, the visual arts are mainly publicly supported and free to view, for which I’m grateful. The Armory Show is not a model for viewing art for pleasure (this is not the primary objective) and in observing galleries loading their spaces with art to sell, I feel the magic is lost. The problem is that word again: ‘context’. Artworks are seen in isolation, with no sense of the journey the artist has made to create the object in front of you. The work is dislocated and open to be judged primarily in terms of taste (that of the buyer), budget (the strength of the market) and size (where it will live). Some galleries may play safe, presenting work that feels like you are looking not at art but at what someone else thinks you think art should look like. The fair experience facilitates the presentation of an artist’s practice distilled into one or two works. These samplers, like a book of carpet swatches, are occasionally waved in front of an interested buyer, but the process of selling is subtle. Here there is no hard sell because someone simply wants the work, or doesn’t, and money is not the issue. In the gorilla cage, Martha is holding court, she is beautiful. Her coat shines silver under the lights of the cage. She sits on a log, leaning against the glass. The cage is more a display case, a vitrine; Martha is a piece of living art. She stares distantly at the tinted glass, her reflection looks back at her and we, the momentary collective of strangers, watch, survey, hold our breath. We attempt a connection as she thinks, twiddles with fingers and picks her nose in the most brazen and practical fashion. In her we see ourselves, before we made tools, invented clocks and spent our days moving from one anxious decision to the next. In her we see the journey ...is everything In the Philadelphia Museum of Art there is an installation by Marcel Duchamp. Between 1946 and 1966 Étant donnés was made in secret by Duchamp in his studio in Greenwich Village, New York. It was thought he had stopped making art to play chess, but this work was made specifically for the Museum in Philadelphia and, in accordance with Duchamp’s wishes, not displayed until 1969, a year after his death. The translation of the title into English is ‘Given’. This may refer to the process of donation and handing over of the work, while Duchamp enjoyed wordplay so being ‘a given’ could mean a truth. I recall the phase ‘at


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a given time and location’ and think at the time this resonates well with the piece. Known for his intentionally unfinished ocular piece, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass), 1923, a work of symbolism that questions the need for art to be a visual representation of objects in the physical world, Étant donnés presents a scene with such pictorial clarity that it is a kind of double negative. Étant donnés is a theatrical equivalent of The Large Glass, which stands a few feet and half a century away. It is built into the fabric of the museum; it can never travel. The previous viewer tells his friends as they leave of the research

project to replace the carpet in the space. It is cushioned, a dull brown colour. My feet make no sound or maybe I fail to hear in this moment. I can hear a high pitched whirring sound, part of the mechanism for the construction. I wait till I am alone. In front of me is a brick wall that spans the small room. Set into the wall is a closed wooden door. I walk up, breathe in and stare into two eye-holes in the door to view the work inside. For the briefest of moments context is absent: I’m held outside time, the wasp has flown, the gorilla sleeps and the art market sinks slowly into the Hudson River. — CCQ

1. Martha, Richard Higlett 2. New York Common ‘Memory’ Colour. 2014 Ten views of the Yellow Cab repair yard in Long Island City, New York. One image taken a day between 5th-14th March, 2014. Richard Higlett “The vibrant yellow of the New York taxi cab is one of the primary colours on the palette of the city. In the 1960s Kodak Eastman produced camera film using dyes that enhanced what it described as common ‘memory’ colours. In addition to the neutrals (white, grays and blacks), colours depicting skin tones, sky, grass sand and sea were more vibrant as this would stay longer in the mind. In New York the use of the yellow contributes to the collective memory of the city and the rendering of this colour through the use of this camera film has contributed in part to the collective memory and image of the city through popular culture.”

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Clear of People Michal Iwanowski retraced the desperate 2000 km journey through wilderness his grandfather and great uncle made in 1945 after escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. He talks to CCQ about their epic feat and why he felt compelled to document the journey for himself. words: Ric Bower and Opal Turner

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My grandfather and grandmother were born in Vilnius, Lithuania. When the war broke out in 1939 they had to fight against the Germans. The Polish army was broken down quite quickly though. The boys, being quite boisterous, wanted to fight on but they didn’t have an army to join, so my grandfather and his little brother spent a couple of years in the woods, around Vilnius area, fighting as partisans. In 1944 the Russian army came in and said to all those boys: ‘If you put your arms down and join us, we can make one big army to fight the Germans...or else we can shoot you...’ There was no big army, of course, they were transported to Russia on trains and placed in a prison camp, near Kaluga, which is around two hours south of Moscow. My great uncle was sent

to a Gulag; he was working there in minus forty degrees centigrade, digging huts and chopping wood My grandfather remained in the camp in Kaluga. Miraculously, a year later, they were brought together in Kaluga again. Three days after my great uncle returned, in the evening, when they stopped working, they were supposed to cross the market square and go back to the barracks. They managed to stay behind, however. They hid out in a little chapel. My Granddad, his brother and two others crossed the river Aulka, which is very beautiful but really wide, using a boat which my grandad had seen earlier. They allowed themselves to float for two kilometres downstream in the current before landing on the opposite bank, hoping to throw the guards off their


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scent. Then they started walking. They walked through the swamps, a beautiful part of Russia but there are no roads; the area is now a national park. They would walk at night, almost sleepwalking, because they were so tired. In the day two of them would sleep and two would sit and stay awake on guard. They were ambushed in Kojjosk by a patrol; there was a lot of shooting, and only my grandfather and his brother managed to escape. The other two guys were arrested or killed; to this day, no one knows what happened to them. They kept getting lost. My grandfather had made a compass but because there was a lot of iron ore in that area of Russia the needle would just go crazy. In the end they used the stars to navigate. They had stolen some little pieces of dried bread and had a few sugar cubes. They would allow themselves just two sucks on a sugar cube each per day, to get some sugar in their system. They also found some berries

and mushrooms to supplement these meagre rations; they were far from being well nourished before they escaped but they were on the edge of starvation at that point. They always made sure they had matches; smoking was the only thing they had to numb the pain of their hunger. My grandfather tore his Achilles tendon. His lower leg swelled up like a balloon and he couldn’t walk for three days. It had started snowing at this point. They came across some railway tracks and waited by them for few days to observe where the trains slowed down. It took them many attempts to actually get on one because my grandfather could barely walk, let alone run. Their first lift took them a good 300km closer to home. From then it took them only about a month to get to Lithuania: it was

1945 by then. They arrived at their family home, but everyone was gone. When the Russians came in, it was a matter of ‘get the hell out of here, this is ours now’. They found out from the neighbours, that the family had moved to Poland. When they finally made it there, after three months on the road, it was November. They found Mamma and Papa and their sister. My grandfather later found out that my grandmother was in a different town, and he went to get her from there, and of course they married and lived happily ever after. In a strange way, going to Vilnius was a home-coming for me too. I had this really bold feeling of ownership. I wouldn’t shout about it, because Lithuanians don’t like Polskies! That part of Lithuania is very problematic, especially >> For more features join us at www.ccqmagazine.com


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>> Vilnius, which was Polish for many years. I had this feeling that I knew the place; I didn’t have any political claims to it, but the landscape, I recognised it straight away, the trees, the roads, the pines. I found a wonderful resource of emotions I hadn’t accessed before. My great uncle had written this little book, like a diary, of what happened to them. He had even made a map. I spent months and months looking at a map of Lithuania; I was looking at the roads, making little markings on it as to where I could go and what I could do. In August, last year, which is the same time roughly as they escaped, I went to Russia and I walked. 22 — Issue 02 03

I avoided people, like they did, taking B roads or forest tracks, even going through fields. The thing with Google Earth is it doesn’t show you the tips and peaks of the land, so sometimes something that looked to be a twenty minute walk was three hours up and down in mud up to your knees. There were a few nasty surprises, and there were times when I thought ‘this is it, I’m going to catch a taxi to the next town’. ‘Don’t be such a sissy’, I said to myself, ‘these guys walked without proper shoes, at night, no map whatsoever and hungry as hell. And

I’m here with my iPhone and a full stomach and I am still complaining!’ It worked out to be roughly a three week journey; where they took trains, I took trains. There were as many ways I tried to replicate their walk precisely. I tried to tap into their strength, into the collective memory. There were some times, some wonderful moments, when a picture just appeared for me, but that didn’t happen very often. I just walked from A to B and sometimes would see something that would just stop me. It was instinctive; I didn’t plan the images, I just responded to what I saw. I was trying to avoid sensational photographs, you know, like a burnt-out car in the field, or burnt-out building. Many people helped me with the final edit of the images when I got back. They helped me to find the visual language I was looking for. I spoke to my great uncle a few weeks ago, after my journey, I asked him ‘how the hell did you guys do it?’ He said ‘we just got lucky’. For them


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4. 1-4. from Clear of People, Michal Iwanowski, 2014

it wasn’t anything profound, they were two boys who wanted to go home. We are so detached from danger nowadays. It’s very interesting because we all think that political systems have reached their ‘final’ stage: democracy. We think that nothing can be improved from here on in. But having moved from a land of raging Communism into a land of raging Capitalism, I catch myself thinking that I prefer some things from what I had before: like equal distribution of goods for instance. I work hard for my money now and I get upset if someone else doesn’t work hard for it too; the huge bankers’ bonuses for example. It’s every man for himself, in that sense, here. How resourceful you are

determines what you can get. I don’t like the competitiveness of it and it’s very unjust on some people. I don’t think Soviet communism worked either though. In many senses the sense of community has changed as well; people unite when they suffer under a common enemy and in our case it was the communist system we united and found community under. — CCQ Clear of People was exhibited at Ffotogalley in 2014 and Michal’s journey was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

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has to make when travelling, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible for myself; my mobile was turned off most of the time.

We Make a Path by Walking Rather than being a record of specific place Paul Gaffney’s work eloquently documents the process of travel as a metaphor for change, the physicality of the external challenge being mirrored by a transformational internal journey. He tells Ric Bower about the particularities of his approach.

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RB: So you just dropped off the face of the planet… Ric Bower: What constituted a typical day when you were travelling? Paul Gaffney: The places where you stay on these long distance paths dictate a rhythm. You need to be in by 10pm and they kick you out early in the morning. I would have packed the night before, get up really early, have a quick bite to eat and then just go walking. I was using the kind of routes where I would not have to use maps, I would have some idea of the distance to the next stop but that was it. I didn’t research what I was going to see or where I was going to go. I just knew that if I started at point A in the morning I would be at point B by the evening. It allowed me to not be preoccupied with lots of the decisions one usually

PG: No, I was doing it as part of a Masters programme; in the year I was walking for about five and a half months split into several walks. The shortest was a week and the longest five weeks. While I was walking I had very limited interaction apart from other walkers; when I was back I edited the images and got feedback from fellow photographers, tutors and classmates. It was important that I had the space to stand back at certain points to establish how the work was developing. I tried not to go out looking for images that I knew would work, instead, I tried to react to what was around me and to be truly present. That is the meditative aspect of walking, I practice meditation in the mornings, but I find that the act of


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1-4. from We Make a Path by Walking, Paul Gaffney, 2014

walking naturally brings about something close to meditation; it is rhythmic, you feel physically grounded, it brings you into contact with your body and slows down your mind. Whether it is for a few hours or a few weeks, when you spend the time in close contact with nature, it changes you. There were challenges. It was not like I was a monk and my mind was empty. There were times I was thinking ‘oh no... the light’s crap...and I haven’t taken a photo for days’.

the editing in the end, there are 40 images in the book which works out as an image every 60 miles. But of course I was taking images every day and it is only when I got back and started editing that it became apparent that certain images started to flow together so, although the landscapes were quite different, it would not jar. Some images that I really loved I had to leave out; they acted as a full stop and demanded a comment. I had to ‘kill my darlings’ for the sake of the series. The editing is tough and takes months but I love it.

RB: The images themselves are stripped back to the bare minimum, rather like you when you were walking, I suppose. How did the aesthetic of the images evolve?

RB: Are you surprised by people’s response to the work?

PG: I knew that the images should work in sequence to suggest an inner journey and they also needed to work as a book. It came down to

PG: Everyone is familiar with the experience of walking in landscape but I want them to come to it in a fresh way. I don’t caption the images with location information so that the narrative remains open.

RB: What did you exclude from the images? PG: I passed right through cities; I met people along the way and the conversations we had became part of the overall experience. I considered recording some of the conversations and playing them alongside the exhibition of images. In the end I felt it would make the process too complicated and remove me too far from my original intention. Figures in the image would narrow down how it might be interpreted which I did not want to happen. RB: I am guessing that you changed personally as the project progressed. >> For more features join us at www.ccqmagazine.com


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>> PG: There is a natural progression of time within the work which is mirrored by the progression of my process. I would stop less often, I was taking less images as time went on. I was searching less and became more confident that the images would just come. On the last walk I took a cluster of images that I knew would sit together. I don’t think my aesthetic changed but my approach to editing did. RB: Many creative practitioners have been defined by the journeys they have made, from Stephen Shore and Woody Guthrie in the States to Laurie Lee and Hemingway in Spain. Do you feel a connection with these 20th Century pioneers? 26 — Issue 03

PG: Well, we are all on an individual journey I guess. If I asked you what had changed over the last year you would perhaps pinpoint certain things that have happened, much of what happens you will have forgotten because so much has happened. When you are on the road and everything is stripped right back, even small changes feel far more pronounced, they become memorable. I really like The Pond by John Gossage, it’s one of the few books that have seen that uses landscape to convey the narrative of a journey in a particularly interesting way. It creates this fictional walk through a nondescript urban path; there are so many layers to it, it opens up to you over time. I learned a lot from that book. As I am sure you will find yourself, the more time you spend looking at work in a certain area the harder it is for it to surprise you, so when I find something that does it is really great. Increasingly I am finding that surprise in other art forms.

RB: Do you have a view on photography’s role as an access practice within the broader societal context? PG: On a basic level it is easy to make a photograph, in the same way that it is easy to write a few words on a page. Photography initially piqued my interest for different reasons to why it interests me now. When I first started, I joined an evening class and set myself the task of documenting a day in the life of my grandfather. He was 92 and his day was spent by the fire, he was really content. Before I could start the project he had a stroke. We knew he would never be living at home again on his own so I made this series of images based around the environment


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that he would never again inhabit. To my surprise, my family really got it. I knew I could make something that was meaningful to me but I had wondered if I could make it meaningful to others too. When I started out walking I felt I had something to give by doing it; arguably, the photography was secondary. To go back to your question, photography can be a quicker route to self-expression; after all, the technical aspects of taking a picture are not that complicated. RB: Why did you choose to walk in Europe? PG: I never thought of myself as a religious person but I met this Australian guy, who described a pilgrimage, The Way of St James in Spain, where you walk 800 km in 23 days finishing at Santiago de Compostela. It is a route that has been walked since the 8th century. Hearing him describe it made me really want to do it; so some time later

I booked the flight and was walking the following week. It was a profound experience but also very tough physically and mentally. I had done a tenday meditation course which you spend in total silence and this journey was strangely similar; there was a duality between the internal journey and the external journey. When I came back I knew that I needed to do a project based around long distance walking and meditation. There is this network of routes in Spain where you can walk in a line for 1000 km and you don’t have to think about where you are going to stay; it does not require much planning and you can do it for very little money. Camping is not a good option because it adds four or five kilos to your pack; you should really only be carrying 10% of your body weight when longdistance walking.

I met people along the way who became part of my journey; they were walking for so many different reasons. Some people were doing it because it was a cheap holiday and they could drink wine every night with different people; others had very religious reasons for walking. I was tempted to include these different people in my images but I stopped myself because they were not the reason for my engaging in the project in the first place. I speak Spanish and love the Spanish culture but ultimately it was not a project about Spain or about its people. The reason for doing most of the walking there was down to logistics. I wanted the images to be anonymous, not connected to a particular place. — CCQ www.paulgaffneyphotography.com Paul Gaffney (b. 1979) is an Irish artist who is currently undertaking a practice-based PHD in photography at the University of Ulster in Belfast. He has been nominated for various international awards including the European Publishers Award for Photography.

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Performance Criteria In advance of the new International Festival of Performance launch in Cardiff this June, Emma Geliot talks to James Tyson, Festival Director, about the experiences and thinking that have shaped this new exploration of performed work. James Tyson, former Theatre Programmer for Chapter Arts Centre, has been away — very away — but now he’s back with a new festival that will explore performance practice with a very international flavor. Tyson has been interested in the possibilities of performance and the crossover from performance art practice and theatremaking and has regularly travelled the globe to find new and exciting work. But where does this interest stem from? Emma Geliot: You’ve been involved with theatre and performance-making for a long time now and your work always seems to have an international dimension to it. Has this always been the case? 28 — Issue 03

James Tyson: When I first came to Chapter and Cardiff (I’m not sure if they are one and the same but it would be interesting to explore how one influences the other!) in 1996, I remember I was so impressed to be seeing the work of artists in Wales making experimental theatre and performance (and here I mean performance works that were complex and challenging in their thinking and form) that was particular to an experience of Welsh history and culture, and yet had also come out of a dialogue with the work of artists and cultural forms internationally, particularly in Europe and other places such as South America. Artists from Wales were touring and presenting their work internationally and there was also an incredible history of outstanding and influential artists coming from around the world to present their work in Wales, particularly to Chapter, whether from Europe, Japan or America. This was the situation that I was able to become a part of and so, when I became responsible for the theatre programme at Chapter in 1999, it felt that this was an important legacy and vision within both a UK and European context. So the question was, “how to continue with this?” Of course the situation, whether politically,

financially or artistically, was changing, as was what people were able to make and where it could go. Yet the idea and history and vision remained. Yes, this aspect of international exchange and dialogue has always been interesting to me, and I’m sure any student of performance or culture or art knows how much we rely on, or esteem, or become aware of the influence of the work of artists and movements from other countries, and so, to enter a situation where one can be part of this process in an actual way, and to develop it as an integral part of a local culture, seemed a very important thing to be able to do. I also grew up during the time of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, South Africa, and the discussions around the possibilities of Europe. So it also enabled a way of thinking around how do we exist as individuals, or a local culture within an international context, which also relates to a political engagement of some kind.


EG: While you were working at Chapter you were responsible for setting up Experimentica, a festival that pushes at boundaries and challenges understanding about what performance can or should be. Experimentica in particular often foregrounds the processes and collaborations that go in to making new work. Is this still as important to you for this new festival? JT: Yes, but more specifically so. EG: Since you left Chapter you’ve been travelling all over the world for various projects. Are some of the participants in the festival people/ companies that you’ve encountered on these recent travels or is there more of a mix that draws on your experience over the years? JT: Yes, in some ways the festival is a kind of reflection of the past three years (since 2011), working with and meeting people and seeing the work of artists and different communities in different parts of the world, specifically bringing artists from the USA, Australia and Europe. So it is by no means exhaustive! The choreographer Beth Gill is coming with a group of dancers from New York; choreographer and digital artist and performer Hellen Sky from Melbourne; Ranters Theatre and the performance “SONG” that had started as a collaborative project at Chapter a few years ago and which also involves the conceptual artist Laura Lima from Rio de Janeiro, who had come to Cardiff for a residency at Chapter in 2004; also artists making work from Cardiff such as Davida Hewlett, Beth

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Bloody Poetry, Beth Greenhalgh

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Spheres of Influence / The Nature of Force, Hellen Sky

Greenhalgh; and the theatre-maker Clyde Chabot from Paris. Clyde’s work I have known for several years but for some reason there never seemed to be the right context to present it. The name of her company is La Communauté Inavouable (which is almost untranslatable and named after a text by the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot, which can be translated literally as the ‘inavowable community’, with a meaning along the lines of the ‘unspeakable community’). As I thought of Clyde’s work and such artists as Beth Gill and Hellen Sky, for whom I thought it would be very interesting to make a context to present in Cardiff, I was reminded of this very specific name of Clyde’s company. Her work focuses on language and text from a specific European tradition yet with stagings that often take the form of interactive installations concerned with the presence of the audience. This led me to think of how different artworks not only come out of a specific community, but also how they can make a form of community. As I have continued working without an institution but rather as a performer or artist in different contexts, I have also been reminded at times of how fragile this process of making performance can be: its ephemerality; its resistance to certain kinds of market; of promotion; of the demands and appropriations of global capitalism; and the time it takes as a practice that evolves through time. Institutions can be so important to help sustain this, whether it’s places such as Chapter or elsewhere. Yet most often it is how artists and communities work together to sustain and develop certain structures to enable this art to continue and find whatever place it can within a wider society. This is its incredible strength, yet which also, in some way, is ‘unspeakable’. EG: What were the challenges that you faced in setting up the festival? Were there any surprises?

JT: It’s always a challenge. Sometimes and perhaps it helps initially to have some fixed idea as to what it should be. But as it goes on, for practical reasons or whatever, this changes and perhaps this also makes clearer what is most important about the motivation for putting a programme like this together. I think it has involved focusing on the need to enable a space for works that are not complete in some way. And how this, if framed in the right context, can be a very particular — possibly unknown — active and formative space, both for audiences and artists. I think this is one of the most important aspects of the festival, where we can think about what a community is, or what a festival is. EG: How much is riding on this festival? Will its success determine if it will happen again and, if so, how on earth do you measure that success? JT: Indeed, “how on earth”! How do we define success? I wrote a play about that once. — CCQ International Performance Festival Cardiff runs from 03 – 22 June www.intangiblestudio.co.uk/ipfc

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An Alliance with Science This autumn the new arts & innovation centre, Pontio, opens in Bangor. In a CCQ special feature we look at how artists bring their often elliptical view to the worlds of science and technology. In our opening feature Alison Stokes takes in bones, brains, eyeballs, dysfunctional members, mythical, minute and mutant creatures.

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Science and art are often perceived as polar opposites. Scientists, peering down microscopes searching for medical breakthroughs, could be derided by their colleagues for finding beauty in the organisms they are inspecting. Artists may create beautiful work to communicate common experiences, but can they find the cure for a common cold? Yes, on the surface, it would appear that the two are culturally poles apart. Yet there is a growing move to create opportunities where science and art can work in harmony. Under a glass dome, in a locked room behind the scenes at Bangor University, kneels a lamb with two heads. Its glass eyes, staring out from two angelic faces, create a freakish fascination for the few who have seen it. This deformed creature from North Wales’ farming past is one of the more unusual specimens in Bangor University’s Natural History Collection, a private museum which remains one of the university’s best-kept secrets. “The the idea of the lamb is such a cliché of Wales, but one with two heads makes it seem really sophisticated,” suggests artist Bedwyr Williams, who has been given access to the collection in his role as Pontio Centre’s first artist-in-residence. “It’s somehow very Welsh and very un-Welsh. I come from a farming background. My grandfather was a farmer and he would often see lambs that were born deformed in the cold weather, but the idea that there’s duality with two brains is an interesting one. It’s an interesting motif.” Originally brought in as a consultant on Pontio’s public arts programme, the Caernarfon-based artist is pioneering an artistin-residence programme at the centre, which aims to bring writers, musicians and artists from Wales and further afield to work at the art and innovation centre. Ahead of its opening in September, the Caernarfon-based artist has been given freedom to explore many of Bangor University’s private collections, including the School of Music’s Crossley-Holland collection of over 900 world

music instruments and the University’s Natural History Museum, home to an assortment of bones, rocks and, of course, the two headed lamb. “Academics have a set of outcomes they are expected to arrive at but artists don’t have to be restricted”, says Williams, “I could turn up and decide that the outcome is going to be a set of boiled sweets that taste like animals, or I could set out to make biggest tambourine in Europe. For artists it’s all about being slightly out of control but in a good way – that’s why artists are an obvious choice for collaborations.” Some would argue that science has always sat closely with art. Leonardo da Vinci was a student of anatomy as well as one of the most respected inventors and engineers of his time. Without scientists there would be no advances in paint technology. Without the ancient inventors of the camera obscura, there would be no photographers. “The key words for academics and artists working together are imagination and wonder,” says Professor Judi Loach, Director of the Researcher & Graduate School in Humanities at Cardiff University and long-time supporter of art and scientific collaborations. “In order to think of something new you need to take a leap of imagination.” Prof Loach sat on the board of Cywaith Cymru/Artworks Wales, the (former) national organisation for public art in Wales and has witnessed many successful projects and met many scientists who support contemporary arts. She feels that by engaging with artists scientists can take a step back and see something fresh in their own work. “Many scientists have often said ‘We always thought what we were looking at was beautiful’ but when they are looking down a microscope it’s difficult to show such beauty to a wider audience. It takes an artist to be able to bring that to the wider public.” Looking down a microscope certainly opened up new worlds of beauty for artist Catherine Watling. Her 2006 residency at Cardiff University’s School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences resulted in Minutiæ 05, a research-based project based on images of Tanzanian Foraminifera (minute single cell ocean-dwelling organisms). By giving Watling access to the scientific research >>


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>> process and display cabinets, she was able to display the forminifera X-rays in all their jewel-like beauty, scattered across a glass surface. Medical research charities such as the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust have long nurtured collaborations between artists and science, funding a diverse range of projects and art residencies throughout the UK. The Leverhulme Trust says grants are intended to “bring artists into research and study environments where their artistic form or creative art is not part of the normal curriculum.” The growing number of funding opportunities for such collaborations could also be a motivator in the trend for bringing more artists into academia. Since Professor Dylan Jones, head of the School of Psychology, commissioned artist and Eden Project designer Peter Randall-Page to bring science and art together in the Mind Art project sculpture for the School’s exterior in 2005, Cardiff University has mixed art and science. Professor Judith Hall led a discussion at the Wales Millennium Centre as part of The Clod Ensemble’s Anatomy Season, looking at how the world of medicine and art collide. Her seminar looked at the connection between the mouth, throat, lungs and heart and how modern medicine how can make life-threatening situations better. Meanwhile Dr Jamie Lewis, a research associate at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University, is responsible for finding innovative and new ways to engage with the public. He is one of the founders of Cardiff SciScreen, which screens popular films at Chapter Arts Centre and the University followed by discussions with a panel of experts on the scientific or psychological issues raised in films such as Black Swan, Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Hunger Games. He has also worked closely with artist Julia Thomas and Rhys Bevan Jones on Bench to Brain (2011), an exhibition at Cardiff’s Bay Art gallery. This was organised by the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (MRC CNGG) and the ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen) as part of the ESRC Social Science Festival. The exhibition was an opportunity to initiate conversations between public groups and academics around developments in psychiatric genetics, mental health and their wider social and cultural ramifications. An artist with a scientific background, Thomas gave up her job as a research biostatistician and went to college to complete an MA in Arts and Health. She has been able to draw on her research background to develop a practice that focuses on the interactions between art, >> 32 — Issue 03

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>> science and health. Her artworks are creative responses, informed by her experiences of working as a biostatistician. “’Conversation’ is the key word, as a lot of what I’ve been doing has been about the interaction between art, science, social science and health at the level at which dialogue takes place, rather than at the level at which the artistic process physically interacts with scientific process,” Thomas explains. The resulting work has been a collection of talking pieces. Tiny wire figures were used as the creative starting-point for a wall of images alluding to blood samples and the collaborative contributory nature of large scale psychiatric genetic studies. A mound of cardboard boxes filled with illuminated, delicately folded but empty paper wraps questioned the expectations and consequences of personalised genomic medicine by making reference to future therapeutic hopes and to past practices in the packaging of medicinal powders. Computer-code-generated portraits, contributed by viewers, but enhanced by input from the physical environment, allow participants to disturb their own images and reflect on gene-environment interactions and the metaphor of our genes as a human blueprint. She explains: “Science and technology affects all of our lives and our futures, whether we like it or not, so I feel it is important that artists and the many groups of people with which their work connects are given opportunities to engage in, learn about and comment on that research; to consider how that future will impact on us as individuals and as a society. Science and technology are increasingly complex but, then again, so are we as individuals and as unique thinking beings. The mind is both fascinating and potentially distressing. “Like many artists, I’m interested in metaphor: thinking of something in terms of another or, in a practical sense, of disrupting and disturbing literal thinking. By attempting to visualise something in order to grasp at the possibility of some underlying reality, there is a danger of narrowing down to such an extent that familiarity becomes truth. “Artists are not necessarily interested in truth and often observe the very detail that is easy to overlook in a time-precious, outcomedriven field such as science, with its inevitable accountability to success. By opening that process up to artists, for whom failure is often regarded as an opportunity to reflect, unpick and re-imagine, it may be that they capture a perspective or way of thinking that has been overlooked or pushed aside.” 34 — Issue 0 03

Archaeology historian Dr Jacqui Mulville discovered a renewed enthusiasm for her own work through collaborating with artist Paul Evans on a Leverhulme Trust-funded artistin-residence project which led to Guerilla Archaeology, a Cardiff-based collective made up of archaeologists, scientists and artists dedicated to bringing the past alive. “Working with artists made me like my job again,” Dr Mulville explains. “I realised I had become very insular and working with Paul allowed me to have a degree of creativity. It liberated me. What I do is scientific but working with an artist-in-residence forced me to go out and speak to other people about my work. It’s great talking about your work to people who aren’t in the same discipline. It’s changed my relationship to art and made me feel I have something to contribute to it. In return it had something to contribute to my research.” It was a mutual interest in whales (the mammal, not the country) that first brought the artist and bioarchaeologist together. Evans had been commissioned by Museums Sheffield to create a life-sized drawing of a killer whale as part of its Under the Sea exhibition; Dr Mulville, a zooarchaeologist specialising in animal bones and leader of the Cardiff Osteoarchaeology Research Group, was working on a project cataloguing and classifying whale bones. This common interest led to a residency project called Future Animals that allowed 14 – 18-year-olds to work with Evans and to access Dr Mulville’s knowledge. Out of this collaboration came workshops around how animals have adapted over time. Mulville explains: “Everyone, from professors to teenagers, had to draw a future animal. They came up with armoured turtles, living alligator handbags and, my favourite, the feather boa-constrictor, a fashion item and personal security device.” Following the Future Animals project, the scientist and artist secured another Leverhulme Trust grant for Osteography, a year-long project in which Evans used his access to archaeological references to create a gallery of fabulous mythical beasts, from A to Z. Two years after the project ended, and with 35,000 followers to his Osteography blog, Evans continues to use scientific references to sketch his mythical >>

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Upper Axial Self Portrait, Penelope Rose Cowley

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Atlas: the passage through Hell is a spiral, Richard Bowers, Acrylic paint, ink and digital print on paper, 11ft x 8ft, 2008

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Untitled, Bedwyr Williams, Bangor University Natural History Museum

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Foraminifera from Minutiae 05, Catherine Watling

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3rd Eye, Paul Evans

“The key words for academics and artists working together are imagination and wonder”


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>> creatures. He’s currently on Q for Quinotaur, a 7th century creature from the sea. “What I do is an imaginative way of looking at what can be quite dry research,” Evans reflects. “It’s about expanding knowledge, not through a traditional academic route, but using imaginative techniques. Drawing is discovery. There’s a nice drawing by Darwin in one of his notebooks where he has a dendogram and next to it he’s written ‘I think...’ . The graphic representation is really as important in that way of thinking. At the time, Darwin had an overview and could see it all. Nowadays, scientific disciplines have become fragmented from each other and it’s hard to get an overview. I bring to the table the ability to make creative connections that might not be apparent.” A conversation with a heart surgeon about the causes of Erectile Dysfunction (ED) led one of Wales’ most prominent and provocative feminist artists, Sue Williams, to come up with the idea for her new project The Heart and the Pen*s. Nick Ossei-Gerning, consultant interventional cardiologist at the University Hospital of Wales and one of the UK’s leading experts on the condition was explaining how it was a little known fact that if a man has Erectile Dysfunction and does nothing about it, within two to five years he might suffer a heart attack. Well-known for her challenging explorations of feminism, sexuality, gender and culture Williams says: “A lot of people will look at this and think ‘It’s such a Sue Williams thing.’ But it’s about Erectile Dysfunction. There are a huge number of men who don’t have a clue that the two organs are connected. If there’s a blockage in the blood flow between the heart and the penis, and the man can’t get an erection, it’s an indication of other heart problems. If he doesn’t get medical help he’s likely to have a heart attack. The connection is known among doctors, but it doesn’t seem to be understood by the wider public. Very few men will admit they have ED as it’s a big issue for their manhood and ego, whether they are in a relationship with woman or another man. So the very fact that it’s such a taboo subject means that although it’s on people’s minds, they never want to talk about it or make the connection.” Following the theme, where medicine and art cross over, Williams plans to spend time in hospitals and clinics, talking to doctors, nurses and medical researchers working in the area of ED, interviewing couples who are affected by the problem and watching operations in the theatre, building up a catalogue of drawings as she goes. Using this research material Williams intends to 36 — Issue 03

bring together a host of other arts professionals: choreographers, poets, composers, musicians, playwrights and film-makers to create new work around the issue of ED – she’s previously collaborated with National Dance Wales for SHH! and Cracked. “The word ‘conversation’ is the constant. In the theatre piece it will be those conversations relevant to the heart and penis. It’s where science and art can converge. It’s all about communication and sexual issues and in terms of the science, the communication is between the heart and the penis and how a couple functions.” From heart and penis to light and sound. In 2008 sonic artist Richard Bowers created Marginalia, in association with the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. Using sounds based on words from Dante’s Inferno, played through loudspeakers in the School’s foyer, it reminded the listener of the distinction between the civilised quality of language and the primal sounds of nature. This year he returned to academia with a research and development grant from the Arts Council of Wales, which enabled him to work with Prof Jonathan Erichsen at the School of Optometry to investigate ways in which a £20,000 eye-tracking machine can be used in his practice. “For me it’s important that science doesn’t dominate art, it’s something that happens in the background,” says Bowers, who is now looking at ways of using the eye-tracking device in a future work. “For me the technology has to be a slave to what I consider to be an aesthetically viable end product, not simply a neat trick”. He sums up the difference in approach between artists and scientists: “I still maintain that artistic research and scientific research diverge. My understanding of scientific research is that it tends to start with a theory that you work with and through using rigorous means. With artistic research you can diverge: you set off in one direction and find a fork in the road and take a route down there. In scientific research such divergences would be set aside as another course of action, whereas for artists it can become the main body of work.” His opinions are shared by Penelope Rose Cowley, an artist better-known for her sensual and

provocative paintings exploring women’s sexuality, who has been working with neuroscientists Professor Derek Jones and Dr Silvia de Santis at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) to unleash the mysteries of her own mind in the Massive Dynamic Art project. Her aim is to express translations of visions, experiences, migraines, visual disturbances, thoughts and memories to a surface to be assimilated and translated through cutting-edge science and technologies and led to a scan of her own brain. The Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRi) scans and Diffusion Tensor imaging (DTi) of her brain are the inspiration for her artwork which has been shown at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff Science Festival. “As an artist working looking at science, I can take an idea and explore it where scientists have set parameters. I observe what scientists are doing and take from it whatever inspires me. I have a freedom I’m not sure they have. I don’t always understand the scientific talk, but that’s part of the beauty. When I step away and create something from that experience I’m like a bridge communicating that to the public. I create metaphors which make it easier for me and the public to understand. “This is the beginning of a never ending journey. The deeper we go, the deeper it is. Science and Art are coming together infinitely in a new epoch of super hybridity.” — CCQ


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Material Matters There is a place where artists, scientists and people who are just interested in stuff can come together and investigate, test and play with new material or prod at the received uses of the everyday matter around us to produce interesting new applications. Artist Simon Fenoulhet, no stranger to finding new and unusual uses for often humble materials, met up with Zoe Laughlin at The Institute of Making.

As you walk into the Malet Place entrance of University College London (UCL), one purposeful sign stands out above the heads of the passing students. It reads ‘The Institute of Making’ and it marks the gateway to a world of material exploration and experiment. Inside, it has the animated feel of a busy workshop with bowed heads concentrating on the job in hand. It’s only when you look more closely to see what is being made that you see why this facility is so special. In the short time I was there I saw experiments with expanding pink polyurethane foam, throwing clay pots on a wheel, fine-tuning loudspeaker amplifier circuitry, 3D printing, plus a range of other making such as constructing, drilling, filing, and designing. It’s as if an art school workshop has merged with a scientific laboratory to allow absolutely anything to happen so long as it’s inherently interesting from a materials point of view. So what kind of organisation harbours such a disparate range of activity? The Institute of Making is a unique facility that recently celebrated its first year as part of UCL and it now comprises two

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distinct parts. Firstly it’s a materials library which holds a fascinating array of natural and man-made substances. Some, like the metals and wood, are familiar to us and some are rare and exotic things like the shape memory metals and the impossibly lightweight Aerogel, so light its weight can hardly be felt. Secondly it’s a workshop, a practical place where materials can be manipulated and interrogated to explore their properties and to test their ability to perform certain tasks. A place where you can see, smell and sometimes touch the exhibits rather than just read about their properties. And a place that welcomes the unconventional proposal to make things that might otherwise never happen. It is this combination of materials and making, part academic and part practical that is the key to its success. It combines the rigour of the scientific process with the kind of open enquiry more associated with creative experimentation. The fact that it is a part of UCL helps this dual purpose as it acts as a research base for all staff and students of the University. It is used by engineers, material scientists, artists, physicists and, frankly, anyone who has a need either to explore its library or to use its workshop. The Institute doesn’t make a big deal about crossing the boundaries between disciplines because it doesn’t recognise them as boundaries in the first place, having been conceived for its own special purpose rather than as an adjunct to a specific faculty. Consequently, you’ll find students from many different disciplines rubbing shoulders here in a way that must in itself produce some interesting conversations or collaborations at the workbench. >>


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>> As with any small organisation, its success relies on the people who run it. I spoke with Zoe Laughlin who co-founded the original Materials Library with Martin Conreen at Kings College, London in 2005. Both Zoe and Martin come from a visual arts background which goes some way to explaining why there is an underlying interest in the experimental and the creative potential of materials. Zoe studied Performance at Aberystwyth University before undertaking a PhD in Materials from Kings and is now the Creative Director and Curator of Materials at the Institute of Making but the interest in the manipulation of materials was there from an early age. “I was six when I got my first penknife and my mum found me carving a nice smooth dip out of the front doorstep,” she admitted. Her stated current research interests are the ‘sound and taste of materials’ plus the intriguingly named Performativity of Matter which perhaps has some resonance with those years spent in art school. I can recommend a TEDxBrussels talk she gave in 2012 on YouTube, to get a sense of the mix of theatre and science she brings to her role. You’ll see freezing superconducting ceramics, memory metals and steel threads finer that a human hair. It seems the performance gene can’t be repressed. Conventional material science is very good at testing the physical properties of a substance such as its hardness or elasticity, but the taste of a material is something that is harder to quantify objectively. Zoe’s way of tackling this conundrum was to move into the realm of Psychophysics where the relationship between stimulus and perception can be studied with scientific methods. She started her taste test by coating a set of teaspoons with a variety of different metals such as zinc, tin, copper, silver and gold and then set up an experiment where people were asked to put the spoons into their mouth and rate the taste on a scale of bitterness. The blindfolded participants reported their experiences which were then compared to the metal’s known reactive ability and the study found a direct correlation between the two, confirming the accuracy of our supposed subjective sense of taste. In case you’re wondering, gold came out as having no bitterness at all and was by common consent the most pleasant metal to have in the mouth. Even stainless steel had a metallic tang by comparison. Sadly it’s not an outcome that solves 40 — Issue 03

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all future cutlery purchases (except for the very rich) but it does add another dimension to the long list of desirable properties held by gold. It seems surprising that there hasn’t previously been this overlap between material science and the everyday world of the household object, but then perhaps scientific enquiry has traditionally had higher things on its mind. Nevertheless, it turns out that this experiment is more than pure whimsy, as Zoe has followed up this work by helping British Airways to develop new designs for cutlery and has also collaborated with a chef to devise a meal that will use the set of spoons to best advantage. At this point, our conversation about spoons drifted into the metaphysical with Zoe describing the relationship between the object and the material as a continuum, where at one end of the scale we have the pure material and at the other end we have the pure idea of the object. At some

point in between, the two things meet with an outcome that is the compromised physical reality with all its imperfections and material limitations. Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs came immediately to mind, setting the definition of a chair next to a photograph of a chair and the chair itself in an attempt to reveal the conceptual differences that exist between the three things. Talking with Zoe is very entertaining as the conceptual is often accompanied by the anecdotal as she skilfully explains the relationship


An Independent Perspective on the Arts

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Column Projection, Simon Fenoulhet

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Pins with Filter, Simon Fenoulhet

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Table, Simon Fenoulhet

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Table Edge, Simon Fenoulhet

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Swansea Sun, Simon Fenoulhet

between object and material. She recalls, “there was a brick works near where I grew up and I remember thinking it was a magical place. It made me look at Battersea Power Station as a handmade object; a craft object with each brick having been picked up and placed by hand and with each brick representing that gesture.” This heightened sense of the act of making reveals the delight she finds in the two worlds she represents. With over 2,500 members from within UCL in the first year at their new site, there is clearly a huge demand for this facility which may in part be due to the extensive range of events that the Institute puts on throughout the year. There is a mixture of both public and member only events that helps to publicise their work and stimulate thinking around the nature of materials. I particularly like the idea of the Bodging Workshop, run by Jasleen Kaur, where she worked with a stock of readily available found objects and invited participants to rethink the nature of their function by joining them in unlikely combinations that rendered them both recognisable but strange at the same time. Having spent a lifetime of finding my materials among the everyday things around us, this rethinking of the object has an immediate appeal and reveals the innate ability we all have to improvise as well as an inherent humour that reminds me of why I started working that way so many years ago. Other highlights include flint knapping, the timeless skill of splitting flint nodules to make basic sharp tools and Smell and the City, a one

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hour walk through London, testing your sense of smell and its ability to pick out and distinguish one smell from another. Perhaps closest to my own heart was the session on luminescence, a hands on exploration of the things that glow, including UV-sensitive paint, mouldable plastics and neon tube making. I came away with a real sense that something creative and original is happening in the Institute of Making. There is a maverick element to its make-up that sets it apart from its more conventional neighbours in UCL and the commitment to material exploration in both a scientific and experiential sense has set it on an inherently interesting course that will continue to give us new ways of looking at the material world. It’s also made me think about my own work in a new way and reminded me that artistic enquiry is a legitimate way to interrogate the world. It can be serious and entertaining at the same time and teach you something along the way. I’m going back to my studio to turn out the lights, play in the dark and see what happens. — CCQ www.instituteofmaking.org.uk

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Through a Glass, Darkly Artist Andrew Cooper’s evocative work manifests itself across a wide range of media: public art, sculpture, installation, photography and, most recently, video and glass. Here he tells Emma Geliot about his relationship with and explorations of materials and how to dodge the lure of the latest gizmo.

Emma Geliot: The work that you make isn’t based on a particular medium or process but is somehow always very distinctively ‘Andrew Cooper’. Does the idea come first or do certain materials prompt ideas? Andrew Cooper: I admit to a slight obsession with glass; a material that offers translucence, reflection and boundary, effects which relate to personal journeying. Over time you develop a personal vocabulary built around idea, experience and material; all these elements come into play. Initially there is a pre-conceived idea but memory of — and the awareness of — new ‘stuff’ prompts alternative interaction. It’s a process of responsive development. Richard Deacon said, “I don’t carve, I don’t model, I fabricate; I like the double entendre of fabrications as being something made up as well as being constructed”.

EG: Your recent work seems to have become more and more complex in terms of the technologies and approaches that you use – has this been a gradual development or is your work developed in this way because new technologies and materials are coming on stream, which give you access to different ways of making work? AC: I would say all of these elements are true and apply to my practice. In the past I have worked with Pilkington’s Glass researching the float glass process, collaborated with Dr. J. Williamson (Imperial College of Science. London) studying the properties of acid-embossed glass surfaces through electron microscopy, the findings of which were published in the New Scientist Review. EG: While you often develop work on your initiative and based on your own ideas, you have often worked in the public realm and, to some extent, to other people’s agendas. How has this affected your thinking? AC: Early on in my career I was assistant to Sir Eduardo Paolozzi on his mosaic at Tottenham Court Road Tube Station and other sculptural works. Add to this commissions by EPR Architects, Pentagram Design (the Late Theo Crosby and his Unilever Building refurbishment, London), British Rail (Lime Street Station, Liverpool), British Gas & Cywaith Cymru (Painted Gasometer), Wales Tourist Board, Western Power etc. and suddenly there’s a body of public art work under my belt. Working to commission demands a lot of technical and logistical appreciation. The ability to negotiate the basics means you can focus your attention on thinking outside the box. Inevitably my practice has developed with these ideas, an example of which was a one-man show at Newport Museum and Contemporary Art Gallery (now sadly closed and missed). I’d recently exhibited an installation - We Are History - at Kingston Biennial, New York, consisting of suspended full size negatives of >>

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>> people, audio and UV light and when I got an offer from curator Shaun Featherstone to exhibit at Newport I realized this was an opportunity to expand on the project. In Dis-location I wanted the figures to move, to interact with the audience and undermine the perception of the size of the installation. I was watching another million pound self-build project on the BBC’s Grand Designs where they featured a new glass technology called Priva-Lite, an electronically activated glass that could be opaque or translucent by the flick of a switch. This was a eureka moment and so I started the long process of R&D to find out the who/where/ how and can I use this technology. Countless phone calls, letters and e-mails led to a close working relationship with Alex Thibault (Saint Gobain Glass, France), Pete Telfer (film maker and founder of Culture Colony) and Ashley McAvoy (exhibitions & programmes co-ordinator, National Museum Wales). To put it simply, the idea, effect and interaction were paramount to the success of the installation. It was achieved through new technology and a collaborative team of specialists who had the skills, enthusiasm and imagination to relate to my idea.

All images from Dis-location: Andrew Cooper Photo credit : Mal Bennett. Fabrication and Installation of works: Alex Thibault, Saint Gobain Glass; Ashley McCavoy, Exhibitions & Programmes Co-ordinator. National Museum of Wales: Film Maker: Pete Telfer Curator: Shaun Featherstone, Newport Museum & Contemporary Art Gallery.

EG: Do you ever have enough time to play, research, explore and investigate, or does this have to fit in with making work to a project or exhibition timetable? Is there a danger that something new — material, computer programme, technological gizmo — can be so seductive that it lures you away from the original concept? AC: Inasmuch as I wander about in life being seduced by anything rather than the matter in hand. I tend to have several different concepts on the go at any given time and so ideas tend to bounce off one another. Sketchbooks and initial drawings remain the original source for developing ideas and act as a prompt to ‘gut reaction’ and the objective. This is the period when I play, research and explore new approaches, but deadlines for exhibition or commission are really good at focusing the mind and prevent the danger of being seduced by new Apps and technological gizmos. EG: And what are you working on now? 44 — Issue 03

AC: I’m currently developing You Can See My House From Here, an all-embracing installation proposal that circumscribes Cardiff’s city centre and its surrounding areas. Its aim is to stimulate a spirit of public engagement through art, science and technology. By incorporating physical and cerebral journeying the curious are enticed to reflect and expand upon the notions of perception, reason, cause and effect. It combines bus stops, print, video and interactive technology and is developed through specialists in the appropriate fields of science and technology. EG: Oh, nothing too challenging or ambitious for you this time then. — CCQ

Dis-location Figures - children, adults, the elderly - are projected onto suspended sheets of Priva-Lite glass walking and jumping from the edge of a screen only to appear, a short time later, on another screen, continuing their actions and activities. Viewers also become players as they too are projected onto one of the screens, placing their real-time embodied selves in roles other than that of onlookers, distanced from the artwork and its subject matter. Instead becoming part of an on-screen population with the realisation that looking isn’t everything; the transition to the digital dimension means losses as well as gains. Andrew Cooper intends each viewer’s digital representative to becomes another component in his play on, and enquiry into, space and time and other perceptual and sensory elements of being. www.andrew-cooper.org


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Reviews

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An In-between Space Laughter punctuates the conversation between Ingrid Murphy and Claire Curneen. An interview with these two influential ceramic artists was never going to be dull, as Catherine Roche found out. Portrait: Andrea Liggins

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Close friends and colleagues for over twentyfive years, humour defines this relationship. Their familiar ease in each other’s company elicits a voluble, erudite and colourful exchange; rollercoastering around subjects both personal and profound, the discussion is inflected with puns or witty quips and often reduced to bellyaching mirth. What becomes apparent, however, through the veneer of well-trodden anecdotes and oneliner jokes, is the undoubted sense of mutual respect and admiration that these contemporaries hold for one another’s creative achievements. Curneen and Murphy are examining their professional narratives in tandem, tracing the elliptical lines that chart intersections and divergences encountered along the way. Both Irish-born artists have well-established careers: Curneen, an internationally-renowned figurative ceramicist whose work is exhibited globally and held in numerous collections; Murphy, a leading educationalist and cutting-edge maker, whose current practice explores the interface between ceramics and emerging technologies. >>

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Features Ingrid Murphy and Claire Curneen

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>> With over two decades working in the creative sector, these well-regarded practitioners possess insightful perspectives on a changed industry: new potentials arising from technological advances; the rapid demise of ceramic education and, conversely, a post-disciplinary resurgence of interest in ceramic practice itself. Whilst discussing their individual journeys, they thoughtfully situate themselves within this evolved framework. In our increasingly digital landscape, where the handmade becomes celebrated, a reignited interest in craft and skill dominates the wider creative agenda. Formative years for Curneen and Murphy were shared, undertaking specialist undergraduate and postgraduate education in Cork and Cardiff, and so a deep relationship with material making is inherent in their artistic coding. Latterly, however, they have found themselves moving towards more disparate boundaries of ceramic production, with Murphy embracing new digital dialogues and Curneen remaining positioned within conventional modes of working. Whilst seemingly situated at polar extremes within the field of contemporary ceramics, these makers nevertheless find convergence. Whether working with traditional processes or innovative technologies, from the raw to the readymade, an innate corporeal connection with their work exists, along with a collective sensibility. Bound by a material practice but also a shared cultural heritage, their Catholic upbringing is reflected in a richness of metaphor and material vocabulary, and their Irish character evident in the narrative tones. Contexts vary, but at the core of their work resides a deep fascination with the associative power of objects. “Our approaches are completely different,” Murphy explains, “but we come from the same place and our values are very similar; values about what makes an object viable and what makes it powerful: a holistic understanding of materiality and skill as something that is part of a journey. And you look for that in work, you look for it being part of a continuum.” It is interesting to examine Murphy’s work with reference to that ceramic continuum. Operating within a digital framework perhaps places her practice outside of this discipline’s tradition-steeped parameters. However, Murphy is currently hacking her way into ceramic history - quite literally. In technology subcultures, the term hacking means to enhance something by intervention and Murphy does just that, often placing herself digitally within the frame of the reworked forms, becoming a tourist of her own cultural practice. “I’m using history to speak of new values and new directions,” she >> 50 — Issue 03

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Portent, Claire Curneen, 2013 black stoneware, Courtesy of Ruthin Crafts Centre and Mission Gallery. Photo: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

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Bird Figure, Claire Curneen, 2013 porcelain, gold lustre, Courtesy of Ruthin Crafts Centre and Mission Gallery. Photo: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

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AR Interactive Form for Sound and Image, Ingrid Murphy, 2013

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QR Flatback Series, St Geroge Slaying the Dragon, Ingrid Murphy, 2012

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Hacking History Series, Ingrid Murphy, 2013

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Psyche (detail), Claire Curneen, 2013 porcelain, underglaze decals, courtesy of Ruthin Crafts Centre and Mission Gallery. Photo: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

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Features >> explains. “That legacy can be overwhelming, but I embrace a meta-modern approach: looking to the past; anticipating the future, but very much celebrating the present.” In the series Hacking Histories, digital manipulation extends unassuming Staffordshire flatback figurines, virtually and physically, as Murphy augments their passive, decorative function using QR codes to deliver contemporary ceramic storytelling with humour and insight. Murphy’s recent body of work, developed with an Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Award, offers a breadth of experience manifest through her interactive ceramic practice; from poignant reflections on personal and universal themes to more light-hearted encounters between functional objects and narrative. Augmented reality, 3D scanning, QR codes and 3D printing are all embedded into traditional craft processes to achieve her ends. Home — a terracotta, cast gramophone horn — functions as a pinhole camera, capturing sounds and images accessed through a smart device; its seductive, goldlustred interior tells tales of nostalgia and reverie. Curneen comments on the power that Murphy’s artwork harnesses: “Home contains that sense of material that I respond to”, she says. “I can feel my body through a piece of porcelain or stoneware, and Home creates this same material energy. It suggests a vortex and you are taken in; it is the density of the terracotta; it absorbs your thinking and absorbs you physically.” Sensory experience is amplified in the interactive work Things Men Have Made With Wakened Hands, where Murphy employs Augmented Reality technology. Here, she juxtaposes live-feed projection with film footage documenting a clay jug. This close shot, chiaroscuro recording of hands exploring the vessel is embedded within the live, digital space; a lustred replica of the filmed object, held by the participant, activates the AR process. Filmed hands overlay participant’s hands. Spatial awareness is heightened as proximity and distances collide; touch not only describes surface, but also offers access to a shared continuum. Here, Murphy transforms an everyday ceramic object into a nucleus for expanded corporeal perception. Placing herself firmly within the trajectory of ceramic making, Murphy acknowledges the transience inherent in her practice: “By using technology you are putting a pin in a timeline; you can easily identify when something was made because technologies advance so quickly.” In contrast, Curneen’s work exhibits a timeless quality; her technologies, ancient. She ponders these different mechanisms of making: “In the end, there is not much different about creating 52 — Issue 03

artwork,” she concludes. “It’s an age-old thing; an activity that follows a need or an urge.” For both artists, however, technology is simply a means to create content. “The simplicity of the act of making, of being in the studio, comes so easily to me,” explains Curneen. “My hope is that when I place something out there, its simplicity becomes complex and other things happen.” Curneen’s work certainly moves beyond the technical and material into a space of contemplation; poignant reflections on the nature of humanity have long underscored her practice. She is known for her evocative, handbuilt porcelain figures whose translucent and fragile presences explore universal themes of love, loss, suffering, compassion and sacrifice. Her latest body of work, To This I Put My Name, an exquisitely modelled cast of ceramic figures, perhaps presses even deeper into the recesses of the psyche. Developed over two years, this exhibition is the culmination of an Arts Council of Wales Ambassador Award project, supported by Mission Gallery and Ruthin Craft Centre. The ethereal qualities of earlier work remain in these new pieces, as do the references to religious and mythological narratives, but here a counterpoint is added. Porcelain meets roughbodied, black stoneware; a subtle shift occurs, a delicate tension achieved. With the use of black clay comes solidity. Unlike their fragile porcelain counterparts, these figures are more grounded, more of the world. Their gritty materiality suggests an earthy correlation, the hand-pressed sections of clay reminiscent of cracked, dried mud. “When I set out in making, it was never about the material,” Curneen muses. “Maybe subconsciously, but my concern was about communicating an idea. Over the years you develop an understanding of a material and it becomes part of your intrinsic knowledge. I’m interested in how you access an object in terms of its material quality, what a surface will give you and how that communicates beyond its form.” Murphy likens Curneen’s work to a still from a bigger narrative. Her sculptures command the gallery space, narrating dialogues of immensity. With outstretched hand, the diptych Builders seduces us into the frame; these figures watch and witness; they guide, they direct. Nearby another figure lies suspended; reclining or rising, this is

a body of extreme tension. Pruned nodes cover many of these human frames, suggesting loss yet also renewal. Other beings, masked, wounded or hirsute, engage in discrete acts of transformation; all thought-provoking fragments of a world unseen. Curneen is choreographing a suspended moment, a space in-between upon which we will feel we have stumbled. “This is intelligent work,” Murphy states. “It speaks of things beyond itself; it taps into the universal. That’s the power of an object, to transcend its context.” The notion of an in-between space becomes interesting when examined in relation to the wider commonalities that exist between Curneen and Murphy, and perhaps most deeply underscores a shared creative place. While Curneen’s sculptures hover between present and otherworldly spaces, Murphy too examines the hinterland of the inbetween as technology opens up access to new dimensions of experience. They agree that in a world dominated by partial attention, they are creating a space of reverie where an artefact may introduce a pause. In its essence, their work navigates a potent liminality, a flexible space where imagination and the real intersect. Both artists work at this seam where universal themes pervade; yet it is the domestic scale of their practice that perhaps pierces the skin of what they both chase – a closer understanding of what it is to be human. — CCQ

“That’s the power of an object, to transcend its context.”

Claire Curneen - To This I Put My Name is at Mission Gallery 18th January – 16th March, and Ruthin Craft Centre 12th April – 20th July 2014 Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy will be speaking at the General Assembly of The International Academy of Ceramics, Dublin 8th – 12th September 2014


Claire Curneen and Ingrid Murphy, Andrea Liggins

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Total Immersion The idea that who you are might, in some way, be separate from what you do would be an anathema to longtime collaborators, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Ric Bower caught up with them in their artist-run space, no.w.here to discuss The Museum of Non Participation, the project that has seen them short-listed for this year’s Artes Mundi Prize. Interview and portrait: Ric Bower Art direction: Danielle Rees

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We turn left at the very top of a very long and straight flight of stairs and are ushered into a white attic room, buckled and tucked in amongst Bethnal Green chimney stacks. This is no.w.here, the artist-run space set up in 2004 by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The interior is covered in white paint and rough board, but it is no white cube. The path Mirza and Butler have trodden might be defined by just one word: engagement. Indeed they have fought to carve out a viable space for a practice that is justified by the communities and conversations it engenders, rather than its perceived value in the marketplace. In 2007, at the time of the Pakistan Lawyers’ Movement in Islamabad, Mirza and Butler inaugurated the Museum of Non Participation. They witnessed some of the demonstrations against Pervez Musharraf, and worked over the subsequent 18 months to accumulate considered responses from within a range of Pakistani communities. The project found form as a ‘pop-up institution’ in Karachi, a non-museum in a city that has no official museum of its own. The Museum of Non Participation is securely lodged within intricately formulated, conceptual frameworks, but it is not bound by temporal or geographical constraints. This freedom has allowed the duo to continue using it as a creative springboard for the last five years.

The Museum of Non Participation has recently been nominated for the Artes Mundi Prize, the international bienniale that focuses on visual practitioners who, in some way, seek to engage with the human condition in its many and varied forms. Mirza and Butler will thus be making new work in Cardiff over the summer for the Artes Mundi’s opening in October. As we settle down to converse, Brad offers us blankets to ward off the chill; apparently the space ‘really comes into its own’ in the summer months. Brad paces as he talks. I began by asking Karen to establish a connection between her personal narrative and her particular creative approach. Karen Mirza: From the outside looking in, it must have seemed a dangerous place for me to be. When I came to London I did not know anybody, I was very young and I had dropped out of >>


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>> formal education. University was not even on my radar and I became part of the late 80s’ club scene. That post-punk, create your own tribe, DIY energy sustained me into my early 20s. When I straightened out and figured I should get a job... then I met Brad... Brad Butler: ...what kind of build up is that? KM: …so I did gophering for a small design company. I had a great boss who let me have time off to do classes at St. Martins. In the early 90s, I went to Camberwell. The course seemed good at the outset, but it didn’t take long to work out it was party to the broader neo-liberalisation of the art schools. All the great tutors had already left in protest. We campaigned, of course, and took over an empty space, which happened to be the toilets. When any intellectual visited the building we would pounce on them and drag them off to the toilets for impromptu tutorials. I went from Camberwell to the Royal College of Art (RCA) which is where our story together starts. BB: I came from a place of restlessness over social injustice. I had done anthropology prior to the RCA. I had never come in contact with art. For an anthropologist, it was an amazing two years. KM: That speech they gave us on the first day, do you remember? ‘You are the best of the best’ and yet, there were only two working class and three black people in the whole school! Our own approach has accumulated slowly over time. I don’t think we could have put language on it when we first started no.w.here... BB: ...but the anger was there, and that is kind of missing the point, anyway. We came out of college with nothing; no money, no space to make work and there was absolutely no interest in us. So, we started slowly building. I felt like Karen and I found each other and we formed this position; us against the world. That has changed over time, because, although it can be the source of a terrific angry energy, it comes to the point where your conversations end up being quite closed. We had built something — the lab, with all its cine film equipment downstairs — and that had pretty much killed our creative practice. We were seen as being facilitators rather than practitioners. Ric Bower: People do like to categorise — practitioner, facilitator, curator, film maker or whatever — don’t they? BB: When you take a position, people find their own uses for you. I don’t think that all of what we do could be categorised as art. A lot of it Artes 58 — Issue 03

Mundi would never see — the stuff we do in our communities remains unannounced — but that is how we operate. Much of our battle now is getting the terms and conditions right for us to even start making work. RB: Many view socially engaged practice as just another ‘ism’. It strikes me that you are fully immersed, living, as you do, in your work space in the heart of Bethnal Green with all manner of folk banging on your door, at all times of day and night. How do you negotiate this? KM: I think there was a point when we tried to utter and articulate our frustration. We needed to find expression for a fully-engaged practice, where you cannot separate the social from the political and the economic, the public from the private and the domestic. The Museum of NonParticipation was an attempt to find a way to speak about those relational aesthetics. The socially engaged was still, in our minds, rooted in the commodification of creative practice and it was still feeding the same old values that are in turn feeding the market. The things that are complicated about this space — the question of whether it is a home or a public gallery space — are exactly the point. It’s a politics of hospitality. Our private selves contract when there is a public event here, because 90% of the space at that particular time is owned by the community. They have rights to the space in the same way that we do. Yet, come 10pm the same night, the people leave and our private selves expand; you can’t legislate policy for that. I suppose the networks, our peers and the conversations we have over a screening, when we fuck something up in the lab or even when we are just having food together, these things are important. They are fermented over very long periods of time. Engagement is not a smooth process; it is contested, conflicted and uncomfortable. The downside, of course, is not being able to disengage. I tried to take two days off a while ago. I went to a spa and, whilst I was sitting in the steam room, I heard the voice of a friend of mine

“...we are positing ‘non-participation’ as a means of revealing that which is unseen.”

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An Independent Perspective on the Arts

who happens to be a hardcore, ultra-left activist. We could not really see each other, but we could hear each other’s voices. We wound up talking about how desire had become so commodified and so risk-averse. That is what no.w.here is about in the end ­— it is holding a space open where risk can occur, where failure is celebrated. BB: It is very much like living in perpetual crisis, but at the same time, at its core, it’s an art school, in its purest sense. The artists here own the means of production, but it is not enough for them to own it. We have to teach people to use it, which is where the education comes in. Then, of course, since we are making work, we should also create a space to show it. We, personally, have never been able to show our own work at no.w.here... Thinking about it, we have shown it once, in fact...

KM: Indeed, and that means showing work that we would not necessarily be aligned with... BB: ...or that we even like! RB: You are simply allowing the conversation to occur.

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KM: ‘Live Better, Fail Better’, the Beckett quote, is inscribed above the door of the lab downstairs. We want to create a space where people are encouraged to fail.

KM: ...it was in secret though. RB: There has to be a degree of altruism in the mix then?

BB: The freedom to fail is a political project for us. In order to do this, we are not concentrating so much on the output. Outputs are important of >> For more features join us at www.ccqmagazine.com


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>> course, because they mark moments; it’s not so much about the failure itself as an end, but about completely inhabiting methodologies and processes, which means accepting failure as a necessary condition of success. I know now that we need different strategies to talk to different locations of power. I didn’t know that when we started out. We’ve held this space open for ten years and, in London, that is one of the more radical things you can do. The time will come, though, when we hand it over to someone else. KM: I have always thought of our practice as intervening, creating openings, physical or imagined. Part of that process of intervention is the hijacking of resources, when the corporatisation of culture is becoming increasingly oppressive. To illustrate, huge condos have been built on top of both the studios in which we have worked prior to no.w.here. The first, in Kingsland Rd — you will like this — is called Ability Plaza and the second, at the end of the road here, is called Avant Garde Towers. It is built right on top of the studio in which we used to work. JG Ballard could not have made it up! RB: Paul Rabinow expands on Foucault as saying that ‘power is everywhere, diffused and embodied in discourse, knowledge and regimes of truth’. You speak a lot of politics and power, could you clarify your particular approach to them? 60 — Issue 03

BB: That’s two different questions you are asking really, but there are a couple of people in my mind: In his work Disagreement, Rancière states: ‘Politics exists because those who have no right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account’. The second person I think of is Judith Butler, whose passage, The Forcible Frame, I have tattooed on my arm. ‘The frame builds and confirms acts for those who would name them as such. To learn to see the frame that blinds us to what we see is no easy matter. And, if there is a critical role during times of war, it is precisely to thematise the forcible frame, the one that conducts the dehumanising norm, that restricts what is perceivable and, indeed, what can be.’ KM: You tattooed it, just in case you forget it when you are old. BB: What Judith Butler is saying is that inside ‘seeing’ there’s a condition of ‘unseeing’ and the conditions of power and politics dictate what can be seen and what cannot. She doesn’t use the term ‘deep state’ — that’s a term we use — but that is the core of what she is saying. We are not thinking about power solely in the way that Foucault would think about it, although it’s a great reference, and we are not thinking about politics just as Rancière would; we are positing ‘nonparticipation’ as a means of revealing that which is

unseen. The universal colonisation of capitalism means that we are incapable of imagining another way of thinking. Our language, our vehicles of dissent, are adopted by corporations and commodifed. We are left stranded as our tools of dissent are hijacked. KM: We were thinking about participation very much in terms of violence; we are positing participation, not as a smooth process, but as an uncomfortable and difficult, even a violent one. One Rancière quote was made very real to us when we were in Pakistan: ‘Contemporary art? Sure. But contemporary with what?’ I found that contemporary practice was in sync in Pakistan — it was locally rooted and engaged with tradition in a way that it is not so evident in the West. Their school of miniature painting, for instance, which uses a traditional vehicle to address contemporary issues. BB: I disagree with pretty much everything that you have just said, Karen. My memory of art in Pakistan is that art operated only in rarefied and exclusive spaces.


KM: That’s a different conversation, of course there are huge fucking problems. There are not many places in the world where you risk getting shot at by the opposing party at an exhibition, because they do not like one of the images. RB: Well, at least they’re recognising that art has power. I’m guessing that Karen is initiating a discussion around the relationship between the aesthetics of the work and the political context in which it’s made, and that Brad is saying that this can never be separated. Are we happy with that?

RB: How do you marry up the aesthetic/formal and the conceptual realms within your practice?

RB: I found the layering in Deep State built in a complexity that was anti-didactic, but I also felt that I was not off the hook. I was being encouraged, or even provoked, to engage personally and politically. How has your aesthetic been honed as your practice has developed? KM: Deep State can only come about in this kind of non-linear trajectory. Our aesthetic has been honed over years of collaboration. Deep State, for me, is an archive of the critical, political materiality that happens in our lab downstairs. I can narrate the film through the way that we’ve worked with the image. It makes evident the complexity that we find in time, history and ideas. RB: I guess that makes it harder to box in. It becomes displaced. KM: I am always looking for the extraordinary to surface from within the mundane and everyday; that’s what I seek in the aesthetics of an image. Slightly exhausted, we make some portraits together, then retreat down the long staircase. As I emerge onto Bethnal Green High Street, I have a

Studio space, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler

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Karen Mirza and Brad Butler at no.w.here, photography: Ric Bower, art direction and grooming: Danielle Rees, photographer’s assistant: Amber Bower

3, 4&5 Deep State, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, HD film 47 minutes, Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, c/o Waterside Contemporary (London) and Galeri Non (Istanbul), 2012

BB: No, I don’t think we have much in the way of a right to speak about these things. We have not been out there since 2008.

BB: It’s slippery. There are so many points of entry to an idea. I don’t think we would even use that language.

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profound sense that I have witnessed something special. On the surface, Mirza and Butler’s ecumenical practice appears complex, dauntingly so. But this is not the complexity of obfuscation, it’s a complexity borne of the need to disrupt patterns of thought. We are politely invited to leave our expectations at the bottom of that long, white staircase. Mirza and Butler are fully immersed in their practice. The space in which they live is the space in which they work is the space in which they show. It is a space that is infused with altruism, this is demonstrated by the number of emerging practices they seek to nurture. The mirage of modernism has no place here; there is no distilled isolationism in the way they think, no Cartesian separation between the subject and object or author and work. Perhaps, the time has come for all of us to sit up and listen to what they have to say. — CCQ

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Milk Snatcher, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, c/o Waterside Contemporary (London) and Galeri Non (Istanbul), 2014

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Red Medalist, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, c/o Waterside Contemporary (London) and Galeri Non (Istanbul), 2014

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Riotonaut, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, c/o Waterside Contemporary (London) and Galeri Non (Istanbul), 2014

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Studio space, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler

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Deep State, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, HD film 47 minutes, Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, c/o Waterside Contemporary (London) and Galeri Non (Istanbul), 2012

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Studio space, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler

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Karen Mirza and Brad Butler are exhibiting The Unreliable Narrator at Waterside Contemporary 2 Clunbury Str, London N1 6TT info@waterside-contemporary.com waterside-contemporary.com tel +44 2034170159 from, 12 June – 9 August 2014 The Artes Mundi Exhibition is in Cardiff 25 October 2014 – 22 February 2015 www.artesmundi.org

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Beaten Down Joyce Pensato press-gangs contemporary icons into the service of her physical and direct painting process. Ric Bower spoke to her before the opening of her recent exhibition Joyceland, at The Lisson Gallery. Portrait: Ric Bower Art Direction: Danielle Rees

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Shadows of figures can be found on certain walls in Hiroshima; they are all that is left of the people that had been vaporised by the millions of degrees of thermonuclear energy dropped on the city by Little Boy in August 1945. Those unfortunates left behind only a colourless shadow, an angry mark, that is, very literally, a negative of all that they once were. Joyce Pensato’s drawings are ‘nuclear negatives’ of late 20th century cultural motifs; they are non-cartoons that have had their innocence blasted from them by the brush of her apocalypse. For most artists exhibiting at the Lisson Gallery, their work would be done when they hand over to the installer. Between that time and the private view, there might be lunch with the PR people and the occasional gallery visit to check that all is on track, but that’s about it. Not so, for Pensato. When I met up with her she had just finished a 25’ painting of Batman in black and silver enamel directly onto the gallery’s primary wall. She still had flecks of paint in her hair and on her clothes when I made a portrait after we had spoken. Painting for Pensato is a violent and exhausting process. She began by telling me about the night she received an unexpected phone call. Joyce Pensato: I get this message on my phone, ‘This is Bob De Niro, could you call me back?’ It was an award to honour his Dad. I was the second person to get it. Ric Bower: Was there a connection between you and him when you were painting the images of Raging Bull? JP: I was doing that before I got the award. He was my hero in the 70s. He was so intense back then. RB: So you met Robert De Niro? It’s a terrible thing to meet your heroes, isn’t it? JP: Well, especially when they get old. He was still pretty intense, though. It’s been a whirlwind time for me recently. I had just had the Santa Monica museum show, I Killed Kenny. The title came from South Park, obviously. It was to do with the idea that I was taking the characters and then changing them, that I was killing the cartoons. RB: Do you watch cartoons? JP: No. I think The Simpsons are well drawn, but I would have a hard job sitting down and watching them. South Park is really funny, but I just can’t watch the whole thing. 64 — Issue 02 03

RB: So it is their formal qualities that are important to you...? JP: ...yes. RB: Can I ask you why you chose those particular cartoon figures? Was there a rigorous process of selection? Did you interview them? JP: I just connected with them. It was intuitive. Everything is intuitive. Something just rings a bell. The first one I connected with, as a student in the mid 70s, was Batman. I kind of liked his ears. The Dean of School said to us, ‘I don’t care what you do; I just want you to look at something.’ So, I searched what I connected to and it was pop culture, stuff thrown away that had history; so, I found my language. In the early 80s I made Batman my own space. It was about the mask; he was no longer what I was actually looking at. He reappeared for me again in the late 90s and, then, again now. RB: So he is just a springboard for your process...? JP: Yes. Just a springboard and the one I did here took me to another place. In Paris, a few weeks ago, I did a wall painting, but the Batman we have here is quite different. It is silver and gold, tough and strong, and the light is very different here. RB: So as you change, so do your Batmen? JP: Yes, I am tough and strong now. It has been the most incredible year, with shows in Santa Monica, Paris and now here. RB: And you can’t just hand your work over to the framer and swan up on the night of the private view? Each wall painting is a performance? JP: And on the night the show opens, you had better be off that fucking cherry picker and ready! RB: There is that story about Franz Kline being told by Willem de Kooning to put a small drawing of his, of a rocking chair I think, on the opaque image projector. Kline had an epiphany when he saw his marks at that completely different scale, or so the story goes. JP: Certainly, not projecting it takes much longer. And it needs to be in enamel to give it that punch, even though it really stinks! I am kind of brain dead now and don’t smell anything. RB: You are bringing physicality and permanence to images that are only usually experienced as transient, on a screen... >>


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Features >> JP: ...on canvas or paper they are permanent, but they are not permanent on the wall. Unless you are very famous, they will be painted over. You could cut out the wall, I suppose!

RB: A lot of people struggle with that...

RB: I love the time-lapse video of you making a wall painting in Santa Monica to the South Park cover of Lady Ga Ga’s Pokerface. It makes for an amazing performance, seeing the changes the work goes through as it comes to fruition. Would you ever paint as a performance?

JP: ...yeah, I think so, particularly younger folk. It’s realising that maybe you are not very good at everything.

JP: No, I tried it once. There were five or six people sitting in lawn chairs staring at me, and, as I remember, the paint was not holding to the wall. It was not a pleasant experience.

JP: When I was young, I was very gifted and was always getting awards. When you are 18 or 19, you can be quite full of yourself; that was me. I got a scholarship to an art school and I thought ‘I know more than the teachers’, so I quit. I went on my own and got lost for a few years and completely stopped doing work. When I got to 25, I had worked out that I knew nothing, and that was when I was ready. I went to the New York Studio School, which gave me a structure. It was all about drawing; I just did not want to leave. They were such good people there. It was like a halfway house for my last two years. They gave me the run of the school because I was there for so long. It was said that we were taught to paint like de Kooning and draw like Giacometti. I have tried to keep the tradition up and make it my own. Mercedes Matter, who was an original member of the American Abstract Artists, and was the founder of the school, became my mentor. There were a great many artists passing through at that time (Brice Marden and Philip Guston, for instance) to give us critiques.

RB: I understand your dad influenced you as a maker. He was kind of an outsider artist. JP: He used to make toys for us. He loved to make all sorts of stuff. When he moved to New York, aged 13, he threw away his past and embraced the culture; both my brother and I were taken to Thanksgiving parades; we had picnics by the Statue of Liberty. To be his kid was incredible. I fell in love with 42nd Street, the bright lights. I would say my Dad was my first mentor. RB: You use the process of repetition... and pentementi, of course... JP: ...it takes it to different places. I get obsessed with things. Right now, it’s Batman and moustaches; Groucho Marx. The pentementi, the corrections, mean each drawing has a history. I want to get it precise, but there is a ghost behind the image. It’s like thrown-away toys rather than new toys, there is something there in the background.

RB: Was your creative education something that helped or hindered you?

“The pentementi, the corrections, mean each drawing has a history.”

RB: Where they tough critiques? RB: Have you had epiphanic moments as a practitioner, when the mists have cleared? JP: In the 80s I was very divided. On the one side, I was showing this abstract work. On the other, I was making these de Kooning-esque cartoon drawings. I was supposed to have a show in 1990 of the abstract paintings, then, gulp, they cancelled the show. I was so shocked. It was to be my big day. I had told all the family. It made me ask why I was still trying to paint. Early on, I had been trying to hold onto the image with paint, but I couldn’t do it, so it all became abstract. I stood back at that point and asked myself ‘what am I doing?’ I love to do these cartoon drawings. I am good at it, so why fight it? Why not just embrace it? When it came to enamel paint, I figured I couldn’t screw it up because I didn’t know anything about it. That was a big moment, when I accepted myself. 66 — Issue 03

JP: No, I remember being upset because they liked my work. They thought it was time for me to leave, but I did not want to leave. They said ‘You got it all, what more do you want?’ RB: Caravaggio hated being criticized, but he hated it even more when he was being complimented. JP: I just did not believe what they were saying! At the school I would keep on working on the same image over and over again. I was never satisfied. RB: Did you meet de Kooning, or was he being franchised by then? JP: No, he was going by then, but Elaine de Kooning would come to the school. In the early 80s, I met Joan Mitchell. She was a big influence on me. >>

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>> She would invite us to go and paint with her in France for the summer. I had nothing going on in Brooklyn at the time. As soon as it got warm in March, I would be gone and I wouldn’t be back ‘til September. RB: That sounds like heaven! JP: I don’t know about that, she was a tough broad… She gave me something I never had, which was something to go against. She used to say to me, ‘Joyce, do you want to be a French painter, full of light, or a German Expressionist?’ I said, ‘No, Joan. I want to be a French painter!’ and I realised when I got back to Brooklyn, I was just the opposite. The last time I saw her she said ‘Are you still doing those animals (meaning Mickey Mouse) and do they still have that skin disease?’ 68 — Issue 03

RB: The colour has been violently sucked out of your images. Will it ever return? JP: “Sucked out”, I like that. I will quote you on that. I usually say “beaten down”. No, the colour will never come back. In the drawings, I start with pastel and, then, I knock the shit out of it. RB: What’s colour ever done to you? JP: It’s too happy and I do not have a strong sense of colour. I am good in black and white. The way to approach painting for me is the way I approach my drawings: I go in, I beat it down, then I go in and I beat it down again.

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Marge in Hell, Joyce Pensato, 2008, Charcoal and watercolour on watercolour paper 350 x 158 cm, © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

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Joyce Pensato at Lisson, Photography: Ric Bower, art direction and grooming: Danielle Rees, photographer’s assistant: Amber Bower

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Lift Off, Joyce Pensato, 2014 Charcoal and pastel on paper 75.2 x 55.2 cm © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

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Groucho in Gold, Joyce Pensato, 2014, Enamel and metallic paint on canvas, 203.2 x 203.2 cm © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

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Cartman Hits the Dust, Joyce Pensato ,2014, Enamel paint on canvas, 228.6 x 203.2 cm © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

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Bklyn Batman, Joyce Pensato, 2014, Charcoal and pastel on paper, 76 x 55.9cm © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

The brooding shapes that are left, once Pensato has beaten down her Mickeys, may have been there all along, or they might be the symptom of a nihilistic hangover, following a century of the Disney dreaming that belied a century of unprecedented death. The motifs she springboards from would have originally been generated on crisp, white drawing boards, before being propagated and animated on a computer. They are ultimately devoid of any materiality, existing only as flickering, ephemeral screen images. The energy she invests in them is not implied or suggested. Each line is a gash and the wall is covered in great black and silver wounds of paint. With her extraordinary lineage and astonishing energy, Pensato carries the torch for a vein of creative practice that just will not be written off. — CCQ www.lissongallery.com


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Features

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Locked in Conflict In the industrial heartland of South Wales, artist Neale Howells stirs his eclectic cauldron to conjure images, on an epic scale. As Howells prepares for a two-site exhibition in London, CCQ plunges into a world of paint beneath the belching steelworks of Port Talbot. Interview and portrait: Ric Bower Words: Ric Bower and Opal Turner

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The steel door shuts behind me and there is no escaping it: I am surrounded by partially digested cultural ephemera, enthusiastically regurgitated onto rows of 8ft boards. Neale Howells seeks to flush out any tidy, minimal, modern sensibilities we, the viewer/victim, might be cherishing, before splattering them mercilessly with great, long slurps of paint. He told me that 80% of the time invested in a work is spent carefully drawing his appropriated cartoon motifs, the subsequent process of extirpation is relatively swift; it is achieved with flicks, lashes and globules democratically vomited across each board. The surface does battle with the act of representation; it is Howell’s intention that neither side should prevail, that instead they should remain eternally

locked in conflict. The effect is overwhelming, even to those acclimatised into a culture that is saturated in simulacra; to look for long at his work is a form of drowning. Howells’ studio is hidden beneath the smoking pipes of Port Talbot steelworks in a steelshuttered industrial unit. Grunting CrossFitters can be heard training a few doors away along with the sound of metal on metal from a car repair shop. I wonder what these upstanding, regular folk might make of this paint-encrusted hermit in his paintencrusted workspace. I can see why he chose it though; the ceiling is high and the light soft. >>


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Features

>> Howells begins by telling me why he is painting rather than fixing cars or teaching CrossFit.

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Neale Howells in his Studio, portrait: Ric Bower

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The Bad Guy Gets Away with it. Neale Howells

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Untitled, Neale Howells

overleaf. Untitled, Neale Howells

Neale Howells: I retired when I was 20 from real work; I went back to college and sort of fell into art. It was quite uncontrived really. Ric Bower: I get the impression that you collect things. NH: I pull in all those images, comic books and characters, mix them in and then I see something between them all. You can’t really know what you’re going to come up with until it comes up, so to speak. Although it looks like it’s all been in a blender, it’s actually a very controlled process. I know where everything is in a painting and what it’s doing there. The images don’t get so mixed that they turn into mush, there’s always a reason behind what I do.

“...it’s about working in isolation but not being isolated from the rest of the world. ”

RB: Do you discipline yourself, like with a 9 to 5 working day? NH: I’m quite easy about how I work, I know where everything is going so I know how much I’ve got to do. I don’t need that discipline. I’ve got two children and I love hanging out with them, I’ve got no pressure; touch wood! The thing about me is I’m not really happy unless I’m doing something I haven’t done before. You can’t let the painting own you, you need to own the painting and you can’t be precious about things, you need to be able to destroy what you’ve already done, to go over it. I try and break the rules. I will take one piece out and work on it, spin it around, then put it back together and paint on the top, you’re doing something that you can’t plan for; it is quite intuitive. RB: If you’re not careful though you wind up making your own set of rules and then you’ve got to break them as well! NH: That is why artists go mad, because it’s about working in isolation but not being isolated from the rest of the world. You’ve got to concentrate on what you think you should be doing and see what happens when it goes outside. I was told in college ‘you may as well paint on an island, never mind what anyone else thinks’. 72 — Issue 03

RB: What do you imagine will go through someone’s mind when they walk into this space and are immersed in your work? NH: Well I think if someone wants to go out they’ll go to the cinema or something to be entertained. So I feel that I’ve got to compete with that, what does the cinema do for them? It’s basically five minutes that reel you in before everything starts. Bigger is better for me, the idea is that when you come in you see the work and get really taken aback. There’s so much going on, but I think if something was to be taken out of one of my pieces I would know, because all the small details are there for a reason, because it needs to be there. How do you judge good artwork? I don’t know, but I think if you can come back and keep seeing new things in an artwork that makes it entertaining; I want people to be excited and entertained when they see my work. — ­ CCQ Neale Howells is showing with John Martin Gallery across two sites from 06 June to 21 June 2014.John Martin Gallery: 38 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4JG T: +44 (0)20 7499 1314 John Martin Gallery, Chelsea, 80 Fulham Road, London SW3 6HR T: +44 (0)20 7590 9991 www.jmlondon.com www.artistnealehowells.webs.com

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74 — Issue 03


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Reviews

Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen Earlier this year, GRAD, the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design in London, hosted an exhibition of Soviet film posters from the silent era. At the centre of the space was a display of ephemera relating to the filmmaker Dziga Vertov, now in Martijn Le Coultre’s collection. Artist Richard Bowers went along to an evening of talks to hear the stories behind the collection.

It is difficult to imagine the Russia of the twenties. The country had emerged in a series of jolts from a medieval state where serfs worked the land for wealthy landlords under conditions of cruelty. Compared with Europe, whose countries had gradually transformed themselves in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, Russia was a backward nation largely populated by an illiterate peasantry and one which had yet to embrace non-agrarian industries. When industrialisation finally came, however, its adoption was rapid and more effective than in Europe as they were now embracing technologies that had already been tried and tested in the West. This massive industrialisation, coupled with a complete transformation of the social order, created a heady brew for young practitioners eager to contribute to a body of enthusiastic and celebratory works of art. There was a proletariat to keep on message

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and a peasantry to inform and educate, and the new industrial art of cinema – an untainted visual medium, conveying ideas in the service of the revolution – provided the means to do it. Cinema, whether considered an art form or not, has been characterised as the key popular twentieth century medium for the transmission of ideas since its earliest days, and is economically dependent on engaging with large numbers. Although Battleship Potemkin suffered poor attendance at domestic screenings, it was enormously popular abroad and was exported with great success as an example of the serious application of the medium’s emotional and informative power - in short, as propaganda. Surprisingly, it was not banned in Nazi Germany and even Goebbels praised it. The Russian audience, however, might have been more at home with the many imported films from Germany and the USA – dramas by Murnau and Lang or the comedies of Chaplin and Keaton. These imports were used to finance Soviet film production. Domestic output extolled the virtues of the Revolution to mostly illiterate spectators, and the key filmmakers remembered today used various systems to communicate their themes visually. Eisenstein was one of these filmmaker-theorists, another was Dziga Vertov. Polish-born David Arbelevitch Kaufman assumed the name Dziga Vertov (roughly meaning ‘spinning top’) and set out to establish a language of film that went beyond Eisenstein’s theory of montage. Unlike Eisenstein, Vertov’s language extended to the materiality of film itself – more of a Schwitters to Eisenstein’s Heartfield, perhaps, if making a comparison with the graphic arts. While Eisenstein was adopting techniques of montage to express meaning by making connections between visual elements (an owl merged with the head of a spy, for instance), Dziga Vertov trained his Kino-Eye on his world to create Kino-Pravda (‘truth twenty-four times a second’, as Godard put it), which he composed so wildly in his best known film, Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Eisenstein’s theories had an underlying acceptance of the theatricality of cinema; Vertov made no such concessions to the cinematic mainstream. Vertov’s Kino Eye implied ‘all processes capable of revealing and showing truth’ and this truth, moreover, spoke of the material of film and of the machinery of its production. In commercial cinema, it would take a Godard, or a Bergman in Persona, to continue this exposure of the medium’s inner workings.

Even Kaufmann’s pseudonym was a surrogate for the machinery of cinema – the jigger-jigger of the projector and the whirl of the motors. This name indicates a desire for fusion with the technology, as if his hunger to see – and show – everything had to be expressed through a new kind of symbiotic relationship to the camera. This deification of the machine, welding man to a new technology of seeing, was as much a continuation of the principles of Futurism as of Constructivism. Fritz Lang’s dystopian vision of mankind’s enslavement to the machine in Metropolis is repurposed by Vertov, and Marinetti before him, as a pathway to empowerment for an otherwise flawed human physiology. For Vertov, the Kino Eye had the power to show ‘what the [human] eye does not see’. Vertov’s enthusiasms in this regard led him to conduct a series of talks across Europe, including, as was evidenced by a flyer on display in the exhibition, a 1931 talk in London at a double-bill of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and his own Man with a Movie Camera. However, these lectures and screenings took place amidst increasing restrictions on artistic expression in Russia, where officials were suppressing the formalist experimentation so at odds with an emerging Socialist Realism. Vertov’s Kino-Pravda, it seems, did not sit comfortably in 1930s Russia, where experimental arts workshops were to be supplanted by sculpture and painting studios. In cinema, ARK, the Association of Revolutionary Cinematography, to which Vertov belonged, was to become ARRK, the Association of Revolutionary Workers in Cinematography – an organisation purged of bourgeois elements, such as formalism. And Nazi Germany was around history’s corner, raising its censorial axe. So, Vertov, anxious that his banned films ought not to found be in his possession when travelling back to Russia through Germany, left them behind. But his luggage did contain some personal effects: a beautiful Parker pen, received as thanks for delivering a lecture, and a number of documents, including his cinematographer’s permit. In the 1990s, these items were sold by his family to a shop in Amsterdam where Martijn Le Coultre purchased them for his collection. Lle Coultre also acquired another item of great importance. Stored in a fridge for preservation, was the trailer, made in collaboration with Constructivist Aleksandr Rodchenko, to the 1928 film The Eleventh which celebrated the eleventh year of the Bolshevik Revolution. This trailer, with its crudely animated forms dancing amongst textual announcements, was a far cry from a socialist-realist exaltation of struggle and uprising. It might sit more comfortably with the


abstract films of Ruttman and Eggeling, perhaps. One wonders what kind of film the audience was expecting on seeing this? It wasn’t just trailers that drew in the audiences. Posters, probably more so then than today, were fly-posted up across towns and cities on any available wall space. And the visual language employed in the films needed a fitting counterpart in the design of these posters. Photomontage, a method created, as far as this story goes, by Gustav Klutsis, found its way into these dynamic designs, where key moments in the films were cut out and isolated against abstract forms carrying bold, new typography. The designs were sparing, despite using photolithography techniques similar to those used today which afford great detail and gradation of colour. They seem to be almost an amalgam of screen print and litho – blocks of bold colour with pockets of photographic or painted, photo-realistic detail. One or two of the posters shown at GRAD were familiar: a Potemkin with a criss-cross arrangement of a ship’s gun barrels, carrying the title in bold, red letters and two sailors balanced and falling almost comically in collaged isolation; and October, with the figure of Lenin standing aloft in the vertical composition and leading the October uprising with flag in hand – a beautifully contrasted arrangement of sepia-toned detail and flat, red typography and flag. Others were not so familiar: a poster for the imported film Looping the Loop / Die Todesschleife, places the three protagonists of the love triangle in this circus tale against sheer black. The design is dominated by the clown, Botto, whose saggy clothes are rendered with Léger-like soft modelling, while a sharply defined, red loop cuts through the composition, leading the eye from the stuntman to Blanche, the trapeze artist and object of their rival affections. Despite knowing no Russian, and not having seen the film, I instantly got the gist. Perhaps most striking was a poster – not for a film, but of an exhibition of film posters. Nikolai Prusakov’s sparing design for the 2nd Exhibition of Film Posters 1926 shows the geometric outline of a pyramid against a black ground, with the text above and below in orange and black lettering. While the film posters had few words, focusing the viewer’s attention on the title and imagery of the movie, this poster, with its enigmatic graphic content and abundance of text, was surely appealing to an educated market with an intellectual interest in the form: a form

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valued then, as it is today, for its elegance and communicative power. These posters, printed in their thousands in the 1920s, are today rare and collectible, fetching tens of thousands of pounds at auction. Surely today’s wealthier Russians are hungrily reclaiming these treasures of their cultural history? Not so, I’m told: their collections are filling up with Fabergé eggs, and not the mass-produced ephemera of a proletarian art form. — CCQ

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Artist’s Identity Card

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Nikolai Prusakov, The Second Exhibition of Film Posters, 1926, 108.5 x 71.5, Courtesy GRAD Gallery for Russian Arts and Design and AntikBar

Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen was at the GRAD gallery 17 January - 29 March 2014 www.grad-london.com

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Reviews

performance image: Warren Orchard

Blodeuwedd How does a performance seen on the same night from two different viewpoints, compare? We sent Roger Lougher and Mari Beynon Owen to review Theatr Genedlaethol’s new production of Saunders Lewis’ seminal play.

Roger We went to Blodeuwedd separately: I on my own; Mari Beynon Owen, with friends. The play started with a dog and ended with an owl. It was bracketed with the “aahs!” of a schools’ audience. A good audience. I loved the poster. I had seen it at a roundabout in Penarth but, due to its location, I had been unable to read the details and, of course, had forgotten that my interest had been piqued by the time I got home as some other roadside wonder dislodged it. Finally, I remembered and went online to book my ticket (Mari already had a ticket). Two couples must have returned theirs; two pairs of seats in good positions. I was invited to choose my seat, but was told each time that my choice was unacceptable because I was splitting up a partnership. The Sherman computer sat me in row H, seat 13 on 19th February. Why the above detail? I answer with another question. When does the play start? For me, multiple beginnings in different times and places, some prejudicing me against the play, others demanding that I love it. I enjoyed Lewis’ interpretation and it gave me much to muse on in the context of my own interest in landscape 78 — Issue 03

and our species-troubled relationship with ideas of nature. I had been sorry to miss the play’s first open air manifestation at Tomen y Mur in 2013. I am a great fan of works played outside of the theatre (can one ever praise enough The Persians and Coriolanus directed by Mike Pearson for National Theatre Wales?). Here, the sense of a play embedded in nature was re-created by a set that suggested that it was going to be acted out by the ghosts of a decaying country house, now overrun by its own garden. It began with a couple of youths running on with a dog - presumably ne’erdo-wells looking for mischief. They were seen off by the ghost of the butler, and the play began. Sadly, this layering in time, this idea of ghosts (perhaps, from The Mabinogion, or representing characters that still haunt us, or even the ghost of Saunders Lewis, whose complex and, at times unattractive, ideas still worry me) was never taken any further. I had looked up the play online so I would have a chance of following the action. There was no action (inspired by Greek tragedy, where the action happens off stage and the audience is asked to answer difficult moral questions when faced with an immoral situation): a woman created out of flowers for the pleasure of a man with complex needs and to produce his children. The central motif of Blodeuwedd’s non-human, nonmammalian, origins made it impossible for her to feel the ties of blood that bound the family she was married into and made it unnecessary for her to adhere to human values. Ironically Rhian Blythe, the actress playing Blodeuwedd, was seemingly the only warm-blooded creature on stage. Her performance was emotionally and intellectually

intelligent. Ms Owen suggested that this might have been a directorial ploy to overturn our expectations as the once-vegetative Blodeuwedd becomes human and the humans dendrological. The male characters all looked uncomfortable in their costumes, like the young men sent off to any war, looking like children going to a fancy dress party. Yet, these were meant to be warriors: the husband of Blodeuwedd immune to spear, arrow and, presumably, bullet, shell and bayonet. The set for the most part worked until the scene of Llew’s death, when the most hideous solution was found for the most dramatic and fantastical part of the play. Here, the victim had to have one foot on a trough in water, the other on a goat, etc. etc., and for this, the stage was pushed back to reveal astroturf and a fake stone bath. Surely, the greatest challenge in staging this tale should engender the greatest outpouring of creativity in response or, if not, let this action happen off-stage and honour the intention. Once the director has created a universe, he has to stay within the rules of that universe or it all falls apart. We were in a mouldering wreck of a house in creepy, feral woodland inhabited by ghosts, whose presence was so powerful that we were transported to the 1940s and a wartime romance. And, then, in one move, this was lost; as if tacky 21st century decking had been slid back to reveal the worst home jacuzzi ever conceived. Why does this matter? It matters because it’s a play of ideas; because, as a Welsh learner struggling with the complex, poetic Welsh of Lewis, I was looking for visual clues from the set and the actors to guide me through the play. I have seen and enjoyed other work by Arwel Gruffydd, both acting and directing in theatre and film, but this production was off-target in a way that Gronw Pebr’s shot wasn’t. Possibly, this failing lay in the use of a naturalistic acting style for a non-naturalistic drama. The play, however, has certainly whetted my appetite for more of Saunders Lewis’s dramas, which is a pleasant surprise. I wonder if, perhaps, Saunders Lewis saw himself as Blodeuwedd: a fierce noble, alienated from the people and country that he wants to love, but holds in contempt.


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performance image: Warren Orchard

Mari The world of The Mabinogi is one of magical realism, where historical facts and figures mingle with mythological characters and mystical events are set amongst familiar locations in Wales, and Blodeuwedd is a truly mythical character, made of flowers not of human flesh, and the vehicle for a complex web of emotions and ideas. Whilst on the pages of The Mabinogi, she can charm and beguile you, dancing nymphlike through the woods of her ‘other world’, she must surely be one of the most difficult characters to capture on stage. This may be why Saunders Lewis opts for a play which is more of an exposition of ideas than one of dramatic action. Lineage; sensuality versus rationality; loyalty versus passion; the use and abuse of power: Lewis searches throughout the play for solutions to a series of conundrums. Why/why not? If/if not? Blodeuwedd quizzes us constantly.

In this particular production, the events were set not in a medieval court, but relocated to a country house during the second world war and, as a result, Blodeuwedd seemed much savvier than the virgin girl so often portrayed. Rhian Blythe was mesmerizingly seductive and elusive; knowing and yet fragile. Her portrayal of Blodeuwedd made me want to read the play again as she teased so many ideas and nuances out of the text. If Blodeuwedd herself gained from this historical makeover, finding new depths in her character, the events and actions in the play suffered from this false historical necessity. Shooting Llew with a gun, rather than piercing him with an arrow, caused guffaws of laughter amongst the audience the night I was there. With such a loud bang and fake blood streaming,

the possibility that he might still be alive, which indeed predicates the final outcome of the myth, sadly came over as ridiculous and so weakened the final section of the play. — CCQ Roger and Mari saw Blodeuwedd at Sherman Theatr Cymru Blodeuwedd, Saunders Lewis, 1948; Director - Arwel Gruffydd, Blodeuwedd – Rhian Blythe, Gronw Pebr – Rhys Bidder, Llew – Carwyn Jones, Gwydion – Glyn Pritchard, Rhagnell – Non Haf, Penteulu Penllyn – Rhodri Sion, Gwas / Milwr – Owain Llŷr Edwards]

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Funny Business At this year’s Glasgow International Bedwyr Williams and Michael Smith were invited to share their distinctive and individual take on humour in performance. Bob Gelsthorpe compares and contrasts. As we head to the former tram depot that is Glasgow’s Tramway, we’re temporarily mixed up in a Sikh parade, heading for the Glasgow Gurdwara. It’s a large procession — brightly coloured clothes, flamboyant vehicles — heading for their temple while we, clutching nothing more festive than coffee to dull our gin-sponsored hangovers, head for ours. Sarah McCrory, director of Glasgow International, and Mark Beasley, curator at Performa, brought together artists Bedwyr Williams and Michael Smith to explore humour in performance for an In Conversation – The Humourists. Smith, from Chicago, has rummaged around in his back catalogue to present a programme of films, sculpture and ephemera from the 1980s and 90s while Williams, from St Asaph, Wales, has produced a new film and installation Echt, complete with tour bus. Last night was the gin-lubricated opening of their respective shows and both artists will be performing after the discussion. Despite Beasley’s efforts to link the two artists’ it’s obvious that they’re really worlds apart. It’s true they both use performance personas, often with props or costume, and both draw on earlier influences: Williams remembers forced participation in school plays and the preachers 80 — Issue 03

at church telling horrifying tales of Hell in their white dog collars; Smith credits television, as his main inspiration and his earlier artistic days as a “very formalist painter” as an influence. Using a straightforward humour, Smith is aware of his potential on the alternative comedy circuit, whereas Williams, playing to a gallery crowd, is more subtle and the humour stems from the absurdity of his narrative. The discussion draws to an awkward end and we await the much-anticipated performances from Williams and Smith. First up is Michael Smith. The audience sits on the bleachers in front of a stage set with an orange table that’s scattered with Glasgow International bags and press releases, a costume-draped chair and a jug of water and glass on top of a high stool. Enter Smith, stage right, in a full tracksuit. This is ‘Mike’, his middleof-the-road, middle class, middle-aged man. Looking a little lost and slightly disconnected, he faffs around constantly with his ‘phone, glasses and glasses case while picking up a bag and various leaflets, mimicking and perhaps mocking festival goers. There are some wry laughs and a few giggles from the audience at the banality of the actions. Earlier Smith had warned that he was going “to take my pants off, it’s not going to be pretty…Stick around!” He echoes and exaggerates our behaviour as arty festival-goers before a quick costume change and Mike emerges as a sort of abstract chieftain, in a leather belt with ‘MIKE’ in embossed brown lettering, fur shawl, hat and purple badge. The first word spoken, “Welcome …” before beginning a filthy sing-a-long to familiar tunes. Fucking, sucking and wanking are all topics sung-a-long to by Smith, belying his wholesome, mild-mannered figure. After an abrupt end to this musical filth and a “SCHLOOOONNG!” bellowed from Smith we’re presented with the man-baby character Baby Ikki. Smith, immersed in feminist theory and philosophy, wanted a gender-neutral performance persona and Ikki has been a part of Smith’s repertoire for over thirty years. Ikki displays typical babyish behavior: ‘just-learnt-to-walk walking’, blowing his whistle, playing with a banana or a chocolate egg, trying to share toys, unsure of what sharing really is. There’s a danger of audience participation and we’re nervous. Baby Ikki gets undressed, and middle-aged, mildmannered Mike is back to bumble about a bit more before shambling off stage. Michael Smith returns to the performance arena, says ‘thank you’ and takes a small bow. Then there’s a dash for Williams’ performance in the enormous T2 installation space. We scurry towards the corner where Williams, in white costume and trademark performance hat, is borne in by black-clad assistants. His legs are so long

that once, in a tiny dentist’s surgery, they stuck out wiggling into the waiting room. Those legs and giant feet pedal the air like Chunori until he’s deposited, script and microphone directly in front of him, with more black-clad assistants standing behind, forming an in-house band. Cello, percussion and trombone play light jazz as the audience file in and settle down, Williams fidgets uncomfortably with a pint of beer but won’t drink it until later. We’re ranged in rows across the floor in front of the artist; kneeling behind those who sat, standing behind those who knelt. I look back to see a forest of bodies now occupies the treedotted clearing of the installation. Declaiming in matter-of-fact but exaggerated voice, Williams launches his narrative; the tale of how he ended up splattered on the ground. It begins with the artist hurled through trees by a homemade trebuchet and we’re treated to the back story of the men who built this contraption: one is quiet and composed while the other, a bit of a pervert, meets a fitting end under a rain of arrows, one penetrating the part of the brain that deals with sexual thoughts as he dies with an orgasmic moan. The story continues, the characteristic staccato delivery, rising, spiking, and trailing off before rising again with an occasional aside. Each sentence, although part of the wider narrative, contains a myriad of potential jumping off points that can hurl the story off onto wild tangents, yet the related experiences are somehow universal and the audience ready to go along for the ride. And then it’s over. As the last descriptive sentence ends, Williams drops the script and says diffidently, “that’s the end of the performance”. This clear signifier of the end prompts applause and the film, Echt, begins again. Williams shucks off his get-up, picks up his drink and starts chatting, crossing the fragile line between performance persona and ordinary bloke. A Bedwyr Williams performance can be accessed as easily as putting on a hat. The two artists’ connection to their locality and context is clear but while Williams propagates a fiction steeped in personal experience, using his mind’s eye to create a sequence of crafted sentences, Smith uses developed personas and the laugh-a-minute cocksure bluntness of the comedy club. Williams is definitely rooted in the art world. Imagine hecklers at art galleries… — CCQ Echt, Bedwyr Williams , Videos and Miscellaneous Stuff from Storage (Pt.2), Michael Smith and the two performances were at Tramway, Glasgow as part of Glasgow International.


Don’t Upset the Applecart They came from the forest to take the people home. On the journey apples were stuck into the spear and the spear was thrown — as it landed the apples smashed, leaving an Adam and Eve trail from the city centre to the surrounding deep forest. Don’t Upset the Applecart by Rawley Clay and Tim Halewood was made as part of a residency in Varassdin, Croatia, supported by Wales Arts International All images Phil Babot

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Incessant Mainstream Specialness Poet and print junkie David Oprava writes in praise of Blackheath Books, a small literary press in the wilds of Pembrokeshire that has an avid following of lovers of books as objects. The eggs taste good: creamy and more orange than yellow. That’s because they’re fresh from the chickens outside. The sausages are organic, from a local farmer. We’re on a small farmstead, just a few acres, off the main trunk road that runs through West Wales. Fishguard is that way, Carmarthen the other. A large jukebox hulks in the kitchen. Joe ‘the bard of the boozer’ Ridgwell and I sit at the table, eating, nursing coffee and making small talk with Geraint’s wife. She’s off to work. So are we, sort of. It’s early April 2013 and the Laugharne Festival kicked off the night before. We’re due to set up shop and read around noon in the cramped bar of Brown’s Hotel. It’s the first time Blackheath Books has ever been invited to take part in the now-renowned festival, right on Geraint’s doorstep. “Does it work?” Joe says. Geraint looks at the jukebox, “It sure does.” Not only is he the publisher of Wales’ only artisan small press, Geraint Hughes is also a musician, punk rocker and social worker. He is also an affably soft-spoken, nice guy. After breakfast, he gives us a tour of the publishing house. It used to be in his garage. Now, he’s built a breezeblock extension. The walls are rough. The paint is wet. Inside the barn doors, stand three or four proper machines. Old. Letter presses from the 1920’s, with rack after rack of heavy, metal type. Every book is handmade right here; every book is printed with these rollers and ink plates; every cover is original and bound with care. There is not one of them that Geraint hasn’t touched. “Here, have this”, he says to me. It’s the printing block he used to make the cover of my 2010 collection sole. He hands me an ink-stained, wooden chunk with a zinc plate glued to it. Both are covered in dried, blue and black ink. It’s the imprint of my daughter’s foot when she was three. The gift has a beautiful weight, like good laughter. “Thank you,” I say, and it means a lot to me. He takes his passions seriously. In the morning breeze, as we load his camper van with books to sell at the festival, it seems very distant from the London dives where Geraint, Joe, and I first met. Those readings back in 2008 and 82 — Issue 03

An Independent Perspective on the Arts

2009 were raw in every way: the language, the tone, the air, the beer sweat and the gin-soaked dresses. Some names, who have since become big, passed through those nights. And there was Geraint, fresh from West Wales. With him, was a battered suitcase that held his wares. All the books he had published since 2005 (the founding of Blackheath Books) were in attendance. They were for sale, or to be given away here and there to ardent admirers, for Geraint is a generous man. Truly not in it for the money. How can you be? And, these blackout nights were a chance for him to hear new talent, to live off the vibe of the uncharted, to feel. That’s where I met him on a number of occasions, at the Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell, the Coach and Horses in Soho, and a few others. It’s a long way to come to hear downand-out poetry, but he came. He took names and, later, he created works of art. The event at Brown’s went well. Geraint’s tenyear-old daughter had to cover her ears during Joe’s reading (too many words not suitable for children). The crowd drank him up. I swanned through my bit until it was time to sell books. A comely mix of festival goers and hapless weekend wanderers came to speak with us, buy a few copies and generally fawn over the touch, feel, and quality of the books. “Did you make these?” they said to Geraint. “Yes” and another book sold. In total, he made eighty pounds. He handed forty to me and forty to Joe. “Here, beer money,” he said. We both tried to refuse, to shove the notes back in his hand. He wouldn’t have it. Joe went to the bar. I loitered, helping to slot the books back into the suitcase. The daffodils were out. The sun was up, there. We sat on the castle green and listened to Porky the Poet (aka Phil Jupitus). The world smelled of warm beer and bees. It was a good day. Back on the farm, the collected works of Blackheath sit in Geraint’s study. It’s the size of an average nook, squatting within the three hundred year old farmhouse. Floor to ceiling bookshelves take up all the available wall space. They are filled. This is the warehouse, the library, the repository, the treasure chest. Geraint only publishes between 100-150 copies of any given title. Once they are sold out, that’s it. No more. He’s had some best sellers. Almost every book written by the legendary London poet and artist, Billy Childish, is sold out. So are the two poetry collections by now award-winning novelist, screenwriter and Granta top 20 author, Jenni Fagan. Forward Prize-nominated poet, Steve Ely, is also up there. My book and Joe’s numerous collections of poetry and short fiction are in good company on those shelves.

If you look at the Blackheath website it says, “We realised that mainstream publishing wasn’t doing or saying anything of relevance to us, so decided to reclaim publishing by publishing the books we wanted to read. In the great tradition of the independent small press, Blackheath Books provides a home for literary outsiders, mavericks who swim against the flow of incessant mainstream specialness. Here at Blackheath Books we have decided to keep it small. With very limited print runs, of signed and numbered editions. From chapbooks to novels all are made by hand and with love. We make books because we like books.” I’ve always loved the line “incessant mainstream specialness”. To me, that sums up what Blackheath stands for: art for the sake of art, words because we have to. Blackheath stays alive as a vibrant publisher because Geraint works tirelessly to create beautiful artefacts. There is a small, but dedicated, cadre of buyers, or ‘lit fiends’ as Joe calls them, who consistently buy these creations. Not just for the words, but for the texture and feel of these literary touchstones. So, as you drive through Pembrokeshire, on your way to Haverfordwest and beyond, think of the small farmstead, the good eggs and the wonderful works of art that are created right outside your window. ­— CCQ www.blackheathbooks.org.uk Image: David Oprava

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Features

84 — Issue 03

CCQ 3  

Mirza & Butler, Claire Curneen & Ingrid Murphy, Joyce Pensato, Kim Fielding, Neale Howells, Veronica Feeling

CCQ 3  

Mirza & Butler, Claire Curneen & Ingrid Murphy, Joyce Pensato, Kim Fielding, Neale Howells, Veronica Feeling