a creative conversation
Nรกstio Mosquito Shirin Neshat Renzo Martens Ragnar Kjartansson Helen Sear ISSN 2053-6887
9 772053 688016
09/05 - 22/11 santa m. ausiliatrice castello
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd National Museum Cardiff
BREGUS? FRAGILE ? Arddangosfa o Gerameg Gyfoes
An Exhibition of Contemporary Ceramics
18.04.2015 - 04.10.2015
Parc Cathays, Caerdydd CF10 3NP amgueddfacymru.ac.uk #BregusCaerdydd Cathays Park, Cardiff CF10 3NP museumwales.ac.uk #FragileCardiff
Myne am dddiad im Free e ntry
CARLOS ACOSTA ON BEFORE gyda\with ZENAIDA YANOWSKY
GORFF 3 & 4 JULY 2015
“Dance with beauty and style.” The Guardian
gan\by Matt Wright
Adlewyrchiad amlgyfrwng 360º ar Gymru A 360º multimedia reflection on Wales Meh 20 June - Awst 23 Aug 2015 Arddangosfa Am Ddim\Free Exhibition
wmc.org.uk 029 2063 6464
Llun\Photo: Johan Persson
– The Editor– Wearing its best party clothes CCQ issue 6 is here to entertain and edify. We bring you juicy bits from far and wide; from Azerbaijan to Birmingham, Bristol, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iceland, The Nederlands and, of course, around Wales: We bring an excerpt from Jon Gower’s new book about the Welsh migration to Patagonia in 1865, with pictures by Andrew Morris, winner of the British Council’s International Welsh Young Artist Award in 2013, with which he joined a research visit to South America. Meanwhile, a group of artists produced a prototype interactive experience from the National Library of Wales’ Patagonia archive. They explain the process of art-meets-archive-meets technology on p35. In that same year, as those pioneers were setting out on The Mimosa, Cardiff Art School was born. Renamed as Cardiff School of Art & Design (CSAD) and now transformed into a new building, we ask how can you move an art school and make it work in a 21st century context; and we feature three young Cardiff-based artists; Kelly Best, Nikita McBride and AJ Stockwell, and Joan Jones, a former CSAD alumni. When the new CSAD played host to the Artes Mundi Conference, we interviewed two more shortlisted artists, Renzo Martens and Ragnar Kjartansson. The Venice Biennale is another big international event in the Welsh art calendar. Helen Sear represents Wales this year from May, and she and curator Stuart Cameron share insights. As with Sear’s work, this issue has a lot of hidden connections. Our response to IBT15, Bristol International Festival, includes a performance called (M)imosa and the excerpt from Gower’s book, Patagonia Gwalia, references Patagonia: Breudddwyd yn yr Anialwch (Dream in the Desert), a performance by Welsh language theatre company, Brith Gof, co-founded by Mike Pearson, whose performance workshops for artists getting on in years is featured on p24. Dutch textile artist, Tllleke Schwarz, makes connections between the most diverse of subject matters in her extraordinary embroideries, and Craig Wood’s exhibition at Oriel Davies, Dear Olivia… started with a found message in a bottle and developed into maps, necklaces made from seminal texts, coffee-stained
drawings, video and sculptural figures. That letter and his reply are on p94, but you can read a full Q&A with Wood on our website. We visit the YARAT arts complex, in Azerbaijan, an example of a small nation’s cultural ambitions, and talk to Shirin Neshat and Faig Ahmed. Back in the UK, Nástio Mosquito gave us an exclusive interview as his new show Daily Lovemaking, at Ikon, in Birmingham, was preparing to launch. Across town, at mac (Midlands Arts Centre), Dash (Disability Arts Shropshire)’s Awkward Bastards symposium posed some knotty questions. While the symposium focused on the challenges facing artists parcelled into boxes labeled ‘diverse’, photographic duo Tina Carr and Annemarie Shöne, have been working for over seven years with the Roma, still one of the most marginalized communities, We feature images from their book From the Horse/s Mouth on p74. Nazma Ali and Mark Stephenson, as the Glitterationist, share a text work that goes under the skin of a city street. And the city skyline features in Peter Bobby’s book and bodies of lens-based work for High Rise on p86. We hope you enjoy this issue. Join us online for news, reviews, features and previews. We’ll be at the Venice Biennale, trying to cover as much as we can, so watch out for our online reviews and features, with more to come in Issue 7. Emma Geliot PS. I’ll be in conversation with Helen Sear and Clare Woods (Issue 5) at this year’s Hay Festival on May 28th, presented by Arts Alive and PEAK, sponsored by Creative Europe. If you’re coming to Hay please come and say hello. Tickets via hayfestival.com
Cover: Acts, Nastivicious, 2012, video, 12:17’ © Nastivicious, courtesy the artist and Ikon
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– FEATURES – 50
A Fine Mesh – Artist Helen Sear and curator Stuart Cameron on a practice that challenges the way we view images of landscape and … The Rest is Smoke, this year’s Wales in Venice show.
Gathered Threads – Dutch textile artist Tilleke Schwarz stitches up the oddities of modern living at Craft in the Bay.
I am a Sponge – Artistprovocateur Nástio Mosquito struts his stuff in Birmingham and Venice.
Dirty Water – Renzo Martens shares some moral dilemmas around working in the Democratic Republic of Congo for our second Artes Mundi 6 interview.
Good News from the Future – Forty years on, performance pioneer Mike Pearson challenges his body to revisit the physical theatre of his youth.
How do you Move an Art School? – Cardiff Scool of Art & Design has a new building and a new approach. Does it work?
Watch This Space – CCQ goes to Azerbaijan to explore art complex YARAT and meet Shirin Neshat and Faig Ahmed.
Hopeless and Beautiful – Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson, talks art, music and suits in the first of two interviews with Artes Mundi 6 shortlisted artists.
Abject Objects – Recent graduate Nikita McBride rescues unloved urban detritus to make strangely moving installations.
Incubating – AJ Stockwell talks about Inc, the support mechanism for graduates.
A Monumental Opportunity – Selected for Jerwood: Phase 3, Kelly Best has it large with new work showing in three venues.
—Contributors— Petra Aydin Barberini Petra is a multi-disciplinary artist/designer. Originally trained in Industrial Design in Cardiff, she went on to train and practise as a fine artist in the Netherlands specializing in site-specific installations and media art. Her present practice includes working with jewellery and writing for performance. Petra has been appointed as an associate lecturer at Cardiff School of Art & Design, about which she writes in this issue. Elaine Paton From Chapter Arts Centre to the Australian outback and home again to Wales, Elaine has worked as a performer, writer, director and teacher. She is currently fertilizing a hybrid performance project, End of an Era at Whitchurch Hospital with Julia Thomas, and working with Mike Pearson on Good News from the Future. In this CCQ, Elaine descibes her return to the Pearson fold. Mark Stephenson Mark works with mostly collaborative and participatory processes. Thematic commonalities include, urban decay and regeneration; inequality; diversity and inclusivity. Central to these activities is the Glitterationist International (GI), a joint collaborative practice formed with fellow instigator Nazma Ali. Based in Swansea, the Glitterationist International has a Wales– centred but outward–looking ethos. Mark is currently project managing its newly commissioned work for the From the Station to the Sea project, a precursor to this being the caricature, Higher Street (page TBC****). Mark is also developing work of a more personal sensibility that will create opportunities for new conversations and outcomes, in the field of high functioning autism, via collaboration and social engagement. glitterationist.com
Nazma Ali One half of the Glitterationist International (GI), Nazma also works independently as a multidisciplinary artist. Informed by cultural traditions and feminism, Nazma aims to capture the spirit of human existence, often referencing the idea of nature being constant as an antidote to the horrors of the world. In the caricature, Higher Street (page TBC****), the Glitterationist International has responded to the theme of the dystopian city, as a precursor to its newly commissioned work for the From the Station to the Sea project, re-imagining possibilities for Swansea’s High Street.
Bob Gelsthorpe Bob is an artist and writer based in Cardiff. Faith, in relation to generosity and reciprocation is the governing element in his practice, which encompasses making images, objects, performances and curatorial projects. Recent exhibitions/performances include: Toolbox, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, VVOpen, Vulpes Vulpes, London and Y Lle Celf, National Eisteddfod of Wales, Carmarthenshire (all 2014). Bob and many others are currently working on the inaugural Kim Fielding Award, details of which will be announced soon. cargocollective.com/bobgelsthorpe
Paul Hurley Paul Hurley is an artist working with performance, bookworks and socially-engaged projects. He has written for critical and academic publications and teaches Visual Culture at the University of the West of England. Paul has been involved with numerous artist-led projects in Cardiff, Yorkshire and Bristol, and is inaugural Chair of the Kim Fielding Award. Paul joins Bob in relating a Bristol biennial experience. paulhurley.org kimfielding.org
Joan Jones Joan has been working as an independent DIY cultural practitioner for over a decade. With roots based in the London queer punk scene (performing solo as Truly Kaput and in bands the Battys and Gender Fascist) Joan now works in song, live performance and zine distribution. Joan’s work is about turning queer experience into narratives or what they like to think of as “folk stories.” As a genderqueer person and artist, Joan is currently exploring gender-neutral pronoun such as ‘their’ and ‘them’ in reference to themselves and has just finished an artist in residence project for Glynn Vivian Offsite at the YMCA in Swansea. Meet Joan’s art-school boyfriend in this issue of CCQ. Andrew Morris On completing of his What’s Left Behind? series, Andrew has continued to work with British Council Wales. He has recently been working on a Patagonia project, looking at interiors, people and landscapes. part of British Council’s marking of 150 years of the Welsh settlement. amorrisphotography.co.uk
– RESPONSE – 86
Reasons to be Awkward (Part 1) – A challenging look at diversity and some artists who tackle the otherness ghetto head-on.
IBT15 Bristol International Festival – Two takes on this year’s festival of siteresponsive performance, featuring Night Songs, (M)imosa and Nightwalks
Higher Street – the Glitterationist gives us the High Street as a stream of consciousness.
The Pram in the Hall – Angharad Pearce Jones turns Connolly’s quote on its head at Oriel Myrddin.
From the Horse/s Mouth – Photographers Tina Carr and Ann Marie Schöne get to the heart of the Roma community with their new book documenting a marginalised life.
High Rise – Peter Bobby’s photographs and videos bring beauty to the banal as art meets architecture head on in his latest book.
Art School Boyfriend – The inimitable Joan Jones looks back at a heady romance in this special commission for CCQ.
Dear Olivia… – Craig Wood finds a message in a bottle and responds with his own and with an exhibition featuring post-climate change maps, chewing dogs, coffee-splatter drawings and necklaces made from seminal texts.
p10 Velum, Kelly Best, 2015, detail of installation shot at Eastside Projects Phot00000o: Ric Bower
A Fine Mesh Helen Sear represents Wales at the Venice Biennale this summer. Her solo exhibition ...The Rest is Smoke is curated by Stuart Cameron. Artist and curator tell Emma Geliot how the show evolved. Helen Sear is an artist who refuses to be categorised by medium. She’s a reader in photography and fine art practice, at the University of South Wales, and her work encompasses sculpture, performance and lens-based (photographic and video). She grew up on the crest of the first wave of feminism and was profoundly influenced by artists such as the late Helen Chadwick, who re-appropriated images of the female nude in the landscape to powerful effect. It almost feels like spring as I pull up in Raglan where Sear lives, her studio near by. The house is full of flowers, but the studio has just been emptied with work packed and loaded onto a lorry for its journey to Italy. The artist will follow it out soon. Sun filters through the window and two dogs mill around amiably - one stars in Blocked Field (2012), which was featured in the 2013 touring exhibition Lure, the other is excited by something in my handbag. Stuart Cameron is already in Venice waiting to receive the works for ...The Rest is Smoke. They’ve known each other a long time, Sear first came to Wales in the 1980s, when she was Junior Fellow at Cardiff Art School, and met Cameron when he was visual arts programmer for Chapter Arts Centre. “We first worked together on the installation Green House Yellow Lemon with Sharon Morris, which was one of the first shows I programmed at Chapter”, Cameron remembers. “There are a small number of
artists, who I’ve worked with over the years, with whom I have a continuing and close relationship and dialogue. Helen is one these. We worked together to present Pond in 2011 at Crescent Arts.” Pond is a useful example of how Sear approaches landscape in her practice.” I’m trying to bring things closer and disrupt the single viewpoint of the camera”, she says. “Viewers have to work hard, walk around a piece, become activated as audience.” Sear is not interested in a sublime landscape, but rather a worked/walked one (owning two dogs means that she gets out into the scenery on a regular basis and can observe the daily changes). Her studio is a utilitarian workshop space and the fields nearby have a crop of solar panels. Explaining her attitude to traditional ideas of photographing the landscape, Sear says of the early days of photography, “The photography wasn’t just the technical apparatus, it was the subject of the work: the idea of dominance in the landscape – territory – Man out in the landscape with a big camera. My intention was to close that gap, in a way, between our human selves and our surroundings.” In closing that gap and meshing the figure with the landscape, Sear’s key reference point, since her early student days, has been Andrea Mantegna’s painting Samson and Delilah (circa 1500). In that painting, the figures appear to be merging with the scenery. It’s very sensuous despite
the violence of the action. This meshing of body and landscape can be seen in series of works such as Inside the View (2004 – 2008) and Beyond the View (2009 – 2011), where the impact of Helen Chadwick’s Viral Landscape (1988-1989) is clear. Sear refers to a description near the end of Flaubert’s The Temptation of St Anthony where everything seems to dissolve into a kind of universal matter. For some reason, this reminds me of the theory of molecular exchange in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, but the exchange in Sear’s work is an emotional one. Cameron echoes this when he talks about Pond,” I think it’s performative and immersive, placing the viewer in exactly the same viewpoint as the artist – one that is not entirely safe, but is somehow irresistible. The location and the viewpoint determine the cyclical nature of the larger video projection. There’s a twin screen animation of still images, which presents what might be described as an external viewpoint to the larger projection. It’s very much about a direct and poetic relationship between the individual and the landscape, with a sense of being inside and outside the landscape simultaneously. This is something which is also a key aspect of the new projection, Company of Trees.” Company of Trees is one of the new works made for the Venice show. I’m interested in how their site visits to the exhibition space and to Venice
influenced their thinking. “The reference to Mantegna’s painting of Saint Sebastian, which can be seen in the Ca’ d’Oro, is important”, Cameron says. “The title for the exhibition is taken from the inscription on this painting [Nothing is stable if not divine, the rest is smoke], and there’s one piece of work which relates very directly to the painting. Helen’s very articulate about the influence of Mantegna on her work, dating back to when she was a student.” Since moving to rural Monmouthshire, Sear has been photographing flowers. In Pastoral Monuments (2012), these were cut and put in charity shop jugs or vases, photographed, then projected onto a richly textured paper, re-photographed and blown up; thus creating monumental images of those wayside weeds, which so often go unnoticed. She has also been documenting the nearby rapeseed fields through the seasons, from full bloom to the bronze cut stalks, which, she says, remind her of the arrows in Mantegna’s Saint Sebastian (1490) in the Ca’ d’Oro. This was Mantegna’s third version and it’s thought to refer to his increasing sense of mortality, having survived the plague. There is a real sense of the temporal in Sear’s work too – seasonal shifts, the natural cycle of life and death. The trunks in Company of Trees are marked in a vivid red/orange, ready for felling but shifted into another time frame by Sear’s video work. Perhaps this is what made her conscious of the stumps and tree trunks on which Venice is built, echoed above ground in the columns in part of the space where she’ll be showing. Sear’s personal references and observations will not be overt in the work. There is, nonetheless, something intangible, a sense of rightness, about each carefully thought out piece. “Photography prioritises the eye over the other senses”, Sear says, and wants to challenge that. “The image might not be revealed straight away. So that the thing that is hidden draws people in.” Cameron adds, “The building where the work will be seen, Santa Maria Ausiliatrice in Via Garibaldi, is a beautiful space and we’re just allowing the work and the building to co-exist and not try to cover up or force any association. There’s a very clear line between the work as we install it and the building as we found it.” The relationship between artist and curator is an important one. “Essentially my role is one of facilitation”, Cameron explains, “enabling the artist to develop new work in a given context. There’s also something editorial about this role, which entails a lot of intense discussion and viewing of work at all stages of its evolution. I think it also requires a very open mind and not closing down the possibilities – at least until quite an advanced stage in the work’s development. In fact, some decisions are made at the moment of presentation.” And it’s true that the space can influence the reading of the work. When Sear’s solo show, Lure, was touring in 2013, I saw it in two different contexts – at Oriel Davies (the originating gallery) and at Bay Art. Walking past Blocked Field (2012) – a giant, multi-panelled,
monochrome image of bales of straw, with Sear’s Pointer, Mazzy, blending into the huge stack - I had to do a double take. Suddenly it seemed to be tinted with gold and it took a moment to realise that the aluminium on which the image was printed was reflecting the polished wooden floor of the gallery. A part of an urban gallery was merged with a rural landscape. This sparked off a whole set of ideas for me as viewer, linking together sculpture, photography, collage and video. Armed with the realisation that there were filaments of a relationship between different strands of work that didn’t, at first glance, seem linked by more than their subject matter, I really did get the meshing that Sear talks about. The same was true of two different viewings of Sear’s harlequin, pixelated bird wallpaper (Display, 2007). In g39’s former, tiny premises, the work folded around the space, engulfing the viewer and setting up a visual relationship with the projected empty birdcage in the next room. In Leipzig, at Halle 14, it was presented as a flat continuum along a single plane, so that, rather than being in the multi-coloured diamond cage, the viewer regarded it as a separate entity, the birds seeming to be blown, like so much trash, into a wire fence. In the former convent space in Venice, there’ll be a new context for Sear’s work. “I don’t think you can control absolutely how the viewer approaches the work, or what associations they discover or bring to bear”, Cameron says. “We’re certainly not closing down readings of the work – it’s more expansive”. However, it’s important to Sear that “The actual encounter of the viewer with the work is important on an equal footing, so they’re not going in and saying ‘that’s about that’. A connection is made”. —CCQ
…The Rest is Smoke will be at the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice as part of the 56th Venice Biennale from 9 May – 22 November 2015 Open: Tuesdays-Sundays, 10am-6pm Commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales; curated by Stuart Cameron (independent curator and director, Crescent Arts); project managed by Ffotogallery Helen Sear is represented by Klompching Gallery, New York klompching.com helensear.com artscouncilofwales.org/arts-in-wales/venice ffotogallery.org
p13 Company of Trees, Helen Sear, 2015 stills composite, video projection p14 Pond, Helen Sear, 2011 photograph p16,&17 Company of Trees, Helen Sear, 2015 video still, projection
I am a Sponge In his super-slick mimicry of ideological and political systems; Nástio Mosquito seeks truth in the form of postmodern coagulation rather than a modern singularity. Ric Bower met him on the eve of his solo exhibition, Daily Lovemaking, at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham.
Adopting alternative, often cynical, or foulmouthed personas, Nástio Mosquito can poke and probe at the foibles of humanity from the distance of his characterisations. Paradoxically the establishment loves him – he was a joint winner of the International Future Generation Art Prize for artists under 35 at the end of last year. Mosquito grew up in Angola, during the tail end of the Cold War, but was educated in Portugal. Although much of his time is
now spent in Belgium, it is Angola’s recent bloody history that forms the conceptual backdrop for his posturing and profane, pseudo-pedagogical performances; gives them a ring of truth. To understand Mosquito’s work, the context of his homeland is important. In 1975, after 15 years of fighting for independence from Portugal, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola
turned on each other. The USA and the former USSR were on hand to pick and arm a side. A quarter of a century of carnage ensued, killing more than half a million Angolan non-combatants. In the light of these facts, armchair interpretations of Mosquito’s practice are unwise; it is meaning itself, the very idea of any ideology, which is on trial. The three of us, Mosquito, Watkins and I, sit in the Ikon Gallery director’s office as the final elements of the show are being installed
downstairs. I begin by asking Mosquito how much faith he has in any of the available processes of communication.
NM: Format is always content, especially if you do not have many resources and you need to make those resources speak efficiently.
Nรกstio Mosquito: I believe that every human being has this desperate need to communicate. I have a profound respect for the tools of communication; they are a reflection of a basic human need to be understood and, through that understanding, to achieve some kind of fulfillment. The articulation of sound is a tool, as are the technologies that disseminate language.
JW: This has some bearing on the art versus non-art discussion as to whether something is framed within a dedicated art space. Much of your earlier work was made without any thought of an art context.
Jonathan Watkins: The medium is the message. The mode of communication inevitably becomes part of its meaning. It may be a truism but it is entirely pertinent.
NM: Yes. JW: You were making videos to post online then, but now you are working in the context we are in here at Ikon; that too gets caught up and used in the process of transmission. Ric Bower: So the work and its context
cannot be separated. Can I ask about your awareness of potential audiences? An Angolan audience and a Birmingham audience are different beasts are they not? NM: No, I make work for human beings. I cannot deny that my existence is contaminated by the context I am in, but the idea of a particular audience is not my departure point. The things that are important to me come out of a particular context, and from my own limitations too, but that is not what drives me. There is however a question of efficiency; the language I employ in a particular work, English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, will have an inevitable bearing on the potential audience. When I make a video, for instance, it is always at the service of a perspective.
Hopefully, it will make sense in Angola and in Birmingham. What I am hoping, as a communicator of perspectives, is that it will ‘be of service’, and the best way I can achieve that is to be very much in touch with what moves me personally. JW: This is interesting; both in what we have experienced here and with reference to the project we will be making for Venice, where there is the idea of being a representative of one national culture presenting formally to another national culture. That sense of national distinction, between Angola and the rest of the world say, is projected onto the artist. The artist is expected to speak for a culture and that is problematic. It is not as if Nástio is embraced by the Angolan government, or that he is thought of being as a suitable advocate of all things Angolan. NM: I don’t really give a fuck why they invite me, or even why they don’t. That’s their problem. I cannot focus too much on these things. You can ask my opinion on the subject of representation, and I will have one, but, then again, opinions are very volatile things. The reality is, I don’t really care! RB: But what about relationships, do you care about them?
NM: I think relationships are what make life worth it: good relationships, bad relationships, ambiguous relationships. If I am any good, if my work is to be consequent in what it brings, and what I bring is my sense of individuality applied to a community, I want to make that count. I use the word ‘service’ (and I choose it carefully), but that is the end result. More fundamentally, it is intrinsically connected to who I am as an individual. I am being fucking honest and I don’t want to die alone. I want to be part of the community where I am. I am, after all, part of the fucking human community.
NM: Can we be in society without being political? As a professional and as an artist, I would like to be like Miley Cyrus, to be exposed to bigger audiences, but that kind of stuff is just not what comes out of me and what does come out of me brings certain consequences. It comes back to what Jonathan was saying; I was never producing work to be part of the art community.
RB: So solidarity with the human condition is something you are being-in, in a Heideggerian sense, rather than being an intentional act.
RB: It seems that, with your practice, the familiar art community process of postratification is disempowered. In attempting to pin down your work within a comfortable and familiar semantic structure, the point is missed.
NM: That may be so. I have a philosopher friend, Bill Hasselberger, who is a lover of Heidegger. A lot of the music on my last album was done with Bill. Because of my Christian roots and his atheistic outlook, we often discuss what this sense of ‘service’ is connected to. JW: I think that is right, it is a question of what you assume, from your point of departure; rather than setting out with the intention of arriving at some kind of utopia.
JW: I find it very interesting if someone moves freely in and out of the art world. I like that kind of fluidity.
NM: Yes and no. The dialogue to have with me is not about how to pin it down. I am very excited, or even honoured, when people are trying to pin shit down because it means they are talking, but it does not mean I need to be part of that conversation. I have already done my job, you will never hear from me ‘that is right’ or ‘that is wrong’. JW: Then there is the idea of assuming different identities - just because we hear a
particular voice in a video, that doesn’t mean that it is the artist’s own position being presented. NM: We have a very flexible way of dealing with our identities, I think. You can, for example, disdain what Britain has done throughout history as a global power without refusing to be British; rarely do you see people handing in their passports. We operate with different measures. The relationships with what we choose to be part of and what we choose not to be part of is something I apprehend within my practice. Allegiance, as a cultural phenomenon, allows me to assume different voices. JW: So many people assume that Nástio Mosquito is not your real name; they assume it must be another persona. NM: Indeed. RB: I am guessing you are as immersed within your personal spirituality as you are immersed within your practice. Is this actually the case? NM: No, there is a separation: my spirituality is a personal thing; my practice is my job. I am not my job. My job is one of the many things that I do. My spirituality invades my family
space, my personal space, it informs my joy and empowers me to get up every morning and engage with a new day. My practice is just one avenue of that. I don’t share my practice with my mother, for instance, but I do love what I do. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. RB: Clowns, jokers and prophets, they all seem to end up suffering in some way for conveying a truth. Do you associate with those roles? NM: I sympathise with those characters and I think they are present in my work, but perhaps it is too soon to know for sure. When I die you will have your answer. Life presents us with certain propositions, whether you are spiritual or not. Some of us are prepared to accept what is proposed to us, some of us are not, and there are moments of profound fulfilment in that process. Sometimes you are invited to be the clown, or you are invited to be the joker or even the prophet. I do not think you actually have to make that many real decisions in life. If I am going to be true to myself, I do not have that many real options through life but I am constantly compelled to take positions. I am learning, through what I do, to embrace those positions and to make them consequent.
RB: I sense a deeper engagement with truth in your practice than mere correspondence. Has your approach to truth been particularly forged in Angola? NM: I want to answer this not in a personal way. Truth is always at the service of a perspective, but my truth is my sense of integrity. I am aware that a truth residing within me is limited, but that is all I have. I am a sponge; I use everything and everyone to fuel my presentation of perspectives. —CCQ
A new video and performance by Nástio Mosquito will be presented at the 56th Venice Biennale by Ikon and Nuova Icona in the Oratorio di San Ludovico, Dorsoduro. ikon-gallery.org nuovaicona.org
p18&19 Nástio Mosquito at Ikon, Birmingham, Ric Bower, 2015 p20&21 Nástia’s Manifesto, Nástio Mosquito, 2008, video, 4:10’ © Nástio Mosquito, courtesy the artist and Ikon p22 Demo Da Cracía, Nástio Mosquito, 2013, video 6:56’ Courtesy Nástio Mosquito p23 3 Continents, Nástio Mosquito, 2010, video, 7:45’ © Nástio Mosquito, courtesy the artist and Ikon
Good News from the Future In 2014 a group of physical theatre pioneers, whose work goes back to the 1970s, was reunited for a series of workshops with Mike Pearson. The flyer for the workshops announced that Pearson had “hopes for great happenings”. Elaine Paton joined them for this unique opportunity to revisit the starting point of her own career. In 2014 Mike Pearson was preparing to recreate his solos from the production of The Lesson of Anatomy, as part of his Leverhulme Research Fellowship, Marking Time: performance, archaeology and the city. Pearson and Cardiff Laboratory Theatre originally performed the show in the opening season of the Sherman Theatre on 5 July 1974. To mark the 40th anniversary of this production, Pearson once more performed his solos on 5 July 2014, on the exact spot where, four decades earlier, he had performed in the highly physical mode that he and Cardiff Laboratory were in the process of inventing. At 64, he was curious to discover how his body would now react. Video technology wasn’t available to most artists in the 1970s and so, with little documentation, Pearson undertook an ‘archeological dig’ into photographs, memories and a few scattered notes to jog his memory. In excavating the historical development of his physical training techniques, Pearson collaborated with Louise Ritchie, lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Aberystwyth University, and his long-term colleague, Nigel Watson. Both Watson and Pearson had been thinking of holding workshops for mature performers and last year devised a series for the over 60s. These were held in the old Gym at Chapter, the former 1970s home of Cardiff Laboratory Theatre. My first encounter with physical theatre was in 1977 at a workshop audition with Director David Hughes and Reflex Action. Fresh out of drama school, I arrived with my heavily-rehearsed audition speeches, and instead we were asked to walk - no character,
no funny walks – just to walk. This was curiously liberating and broke all the rules of the heavy Method-based training at drama school, where we wouldn’t dare open our mouths without knowing our character’s who, what, how and why. To my amazement, I got the job. It was an unfamiliar territory with a foreign language, and its physical emphasis was terrifying. Would I be revealed as a fake? Would they know that I wasn’t one of them - these articulate directors and performers who knew the mysteries of Grotowski and Meyerhold? I consoled myself with the thought that I understood the notion of poor theatre, living on toasted cheese, Mars bars and Players No 6. After a year of walking in a perpetual grid, performing 24 hour improvised shows and contorting my body in contact improvisation, it was time for something new. I was invited to teach in Australia. I packed my bags and started walking there, gathering fellow travellers on the way. I thought I would be away for a year. It turned out to be 35. Back in 1977, I didn’t really know Mike Pearson, as Chapter’s Gym was isolated from the main building. It was out of bounds; a sacred, dark laboratory from which people would emerge for a quick nicotine hit and into which they would disappear with an air of intense earnestness. Pearson laughed at this: “We were just so cold, working in fridge-like conditions.” In July 2014, crossing the threshold of the old Gym again, not only did my 1977 insecurities return, but having left with the body of a 25 year old, I wondered how my 60-year-old one would react to being hurled back into physical work.
Taking a deep breath, I walked into what felt like a cocktail party. There were both newcomers and collaborators, such as Sian Thomas who started out with Pearson at Llanover Hall in 1973; Richard Huw Morgan from former theatre company Brith Gof; and Nigel Watson who has ‘walked and talked’ with Pearson for many years, driven by the passion they share in the pursuit of preserving and dissecting their combined experience. Many of us have diverged into other areas of the performing arts. As Pearson observed, the room was full of funders, academics and artists. After the workshops, I discovered I wasn’t the only one worried about how our bodies would cope with revisiting the creativity of our youth. However, as soon as we began walking around the space, there was a sense of coming home after a very long time. Like children let loose at a birthday party, we took off with a wonderful liberation because there was nothing to prove. When I spoke to Sian Thomas afterwards, she said that all those years ago she’d discovered, “Here was something I could do and enjoyed doing”. She went on to become one of the founding members of Cardiff Laboratory for Theatrical Research. Their first performance back in 1974 was on her 17th birthday. Thomas now works as a creative producer. Returning to physical work last year, Thomas said, “It was quite a revelation for me, firstly because I discovered that ‘muscle memory’ truly does exist; my body immediately recalled the postures and spatial relationships that had been ingrained in my body all those years ago; like riding a bike, they returned almost immediately”.
Pearson introduced us to a movement vocabulary called In All Languages (IAL), which evolved out of Brith Gof in the mid 1990s. I asked Pearson and Richard Huw Morgan about this era. At that time, working in the old sheds at Chapter, John Rowley and Morgan were company associates. Morgan takes up the story: “Brith Gof was asked to hold workshops on elements of how they made work for their shows. This was difficult because we had no set workshops.” Reflecting on their collective exercises, they developed a technique, “to work with the abilities of the body, not the possibilities”. They started working
with Dave Levett, a profoundly disabled performer. Pearson says, “We took what was useful from the past and added new inventions to glue it together”. Most people at last year’s workshops were unfamiliar with this physical vocabulary, but relished learning the gestures, actions, articulations and mediations from which we seamlessly created solo, duo and group performances. Mentioning to Pearson that it reminded me of musical notation, he explained that he had come up with the name In All Languages after being inspired by musician Ornette Coleman’s method of jazz
p25 The Lesson of Anatomy, Cardiff Laboratory for Theatrical Research, 1974 Photo: Steve Allison p26&27 The Lesson of Anatomy, Mike Pearson, 2014 Photo: Russ Basford p28&29 The Ancient Mariner, Llanover Hall Theatre Workshop, 1974 Photo: Steve Allison
improvisation - harmolodics. He describes work prior to the 1990s as: “In All Languages, un-plugged, un-boiled and un-structured”, whereas nowadays, “sophisticated improvisation can be built out of simple instructions”. Morgan describes it as: “Tools for a physical poetry”. An unexpected, surprising guest also appeared at the workshops: maturity. What we had feared might hinder us, in fact, took us to a new level of performance. Pearson was astonished to realise, “We have all reached an age where we don’t care about our cosmetic image. We are happy in our own skin - our maturity brings a whole new set of delights”. Sian Thomas discovered that, “With maturity comes a totally different attitude; the insecurities and doubts of my younger self are no longer present; my ageing body knows the movements and is able to adjust them without any doubts or anxiety. I may have a more restricted arc of movement and agility, but my body seems to have developed an intelligence to internalise more and adapt the movements to accommodate this”. Louise Ritchie, in her 30s, had only experienced IAL with her own generation and students. “Watching the group was fascinating. Everyone moved very quickly from structured learning to sophisticated improvisation, from one creative impulse to the next. The group seemed to share a more expansive vocabulary rooted in imagination not athleticism.” Gilly Adams added, “I started as a performer in my youth and love working physically”. Her career has taken her from the Arts Council to Artistic Director of Made in Wales and working for BBC Wales. Returning to this sort of work she says, “I found it great to do these things with an older group - fewer inhibitions, more fun”. During the workshops, Pearson’s gleeful response and enthusiasm spurred us to push on even further. Every evening we would retire to Chapter bar and, gradually, it became a celebration, rather than a lament, of who we all have become and what we have gained along the way; a sharing of what life has thrown at us all and the resilience we have collectively developed. Not wanting to say goodbye to what felt like the beginning of something rather special, we persuaded Pearson to keep going. Nigel Watson has dubbed us “’Good News from the Future’ after looking down a 50 year-old lens with a bunch of mature, highly-experienced practitioners”. Arriving back as a stranger in my hometown after 35 years in Australia, and being welcomed back into the fold, has created a sense of belonging. After teaching communication skills to barristers for ten years, to return to what I really love doing with this unique ensemble is exhilarating. The challenge for Pearson in juggling everyone’s busy calendars to find a mutually-convenient time to meet up, has led to what Morgan describes as, “A development of the whole not the individual”. With egos no longer running the show, people are prepared to accept that they may not be able to attend all of our planned dates. With this generosity of spirit and curiosity of age, Pearson’s hopes for ‘great happenings’ has led a bunch of dodgy knees and creaking backs to reclaim, in youthful defiance, something we love. After all, as he says, “We did it first”. —CCQ
Iliad, Mike Pearson’s collaborative production with Mike Brooks for National Theatre Wales is at Ffwrnes, Llanelli from 21 September - 03 October 2015
A Place of Essential Human Loneliness It is 150 years since the first Welsh settlers migrated to Patagonia, a wild land on the coast of Argentina. In these edited excerpts from his new book Gwalia Patagonia, writer and broadcaster Jon Gower talks about loneliness, hardship and coming to terms with a big landscape and new flora and fauna. Photographs: Andrew Morris Losing your mind under a big sky At the beginning of theatre company Brith Gof’s Patagonia: Breuddwyd yn yr Anialwch, there’s a reference to the French philosopher and critic Jean Baudrillard, who wrote a newspaper essay in which he found, ‘On every side nothingness, wasteland, sterile horizons, infinite vistas’. Brith Gof’s script responds by saying, ‘Baudrillard is right. There is no seduction here. No half-hidden, no half-exposed. No objects of desire. No one to call you by name. No one to look you in the eye. No one to see you from over there. No trees with the promise of shade. No verticals at all, just an endless horizontal. The only possible shot is the pan. As easy to lose your mind as lose your way’. Losing your mind under a big sky, in a place of essential human loneliness. This is true of some aspects of Patagonia, certainly. In his book, Pethau Patagonia, Fred Green recalls a time when he and his family lived at Rhyd yr Indiaid, and the desperate loneliness that would beset him on the paith (prairie). He recalls not hearing a word of Welsh or Spanish for weeks on end, and notes how a letter from the lower Valley could take a month to reach him in the winter, and even then, he would have to ride for nearly a day to claim it before getting the chance to read it. For those in need of regular company, he noted, the idea of having to earn a living by dealing with such loneliness would be nothing short of painfully cruel. Green knew of many a soul who tried to live on the paith, but they suffered from such biting hiraeth – that aching, Welsh nostalgia – for chapel, community and company, that they would be forced to move back to the valley and its distractions and comforts. The enforced isolationism of the place was seen by the English press as one of the most insurmountable obstacles facing the Welsh colonists as they strove to bed down
in the desert lands, far from the teeming terraced houses of their homeland, of their motherland. In 1869, countryside magazine The Field reported the opinion of W. Perkins, the Argentine Immigration Secretary, that, ‘The Welsh colony is a failure because it was from the commencement a great mistake... The poor Welshmen were settled in Patagonia, out of reach of civilization and with no market for their produce... had North Americans been settled there, the result might have been different, but with the Welsh settlers, the change from their thickly populated native land to such dreary isolation unnerved them’. One of the few signs of modernity set among the nothingness and the vast emptiness was the occasional simple store, equipped with a stove to offset the chill outside, on which a traveller could cook a bit of meat on his journey. Some of the native Indians would purchase a litre of wine at such places, and this could lead to arguments and quarrels in the tiny kitchen. Fred Green saw an altercation, which led to a man being fatally stabbed right in front of his eyes. But gradually, he became inured to the effects of loneliness, especially as he learned to, ‘Follow the tracks of animals across the land, and noticing everything that went by or did not go by, noting the signs of the weather and finding myself able to predict the behaviour of animals. My mother was of the same disposition as she was especially clear- eyed and she could spot a puma in the far, far distance. That is also true for my eldest son, as he now lives out there, continuing the work started by his grandfather over eighty years ago’. Living in the lonely places When I met Alvina Hughes de Thomas, a sprightly octogenarian, in her neat, uncluttered flat in the Belgrano district of
Buenos Aires, she reminisced enthusiastically about her upbringing out there in the emptiness, where her parents farmed sheep and some cattle and horses. Every two or three months, they would venture out to civilization to buy some goods before retreating back again. ‘We’d go to Esquel, in a Ford motor, taking an hour or two to reach the town, where we’d visit Nain and Taid. We would do this maybe every three months or so, but for the rest of the time, we’d be out on the camp. We’d have to buy flour and sugar, and everything we needed for bread.’ Alvina was born in Esquel on 8 October 1928 to Lotty Roberts and Emrys Hughes, but spent the majority of her childhood near Tecka, in the heart of the Patagonian steppes, or ‘camp’ as she calls it in Welsh: a word, as she explains, which has been subsumed or appropriated from the Spanish ‘campo’, for countryside. She recalls days of happy childhood wandering the camp, as the children went searching for ostrich eggs. Discovery was a bonanza, as each nest might contain as many as 12 eggs, with each and every one equivalent to a dozen hens’ eggs. When she or one of her siblings, Caeron, Ivor or Elgar, found them, their mother made ‘tortillas with potatoes and onions all bound with those ostrich eggs, ‘Oh, we had those many, many times. Mother could feed us all with a tortilla made with a single egg. Imagine that!’ Some people put the eggs to other uses, such as using them as shampoo. Alvina recalls that: ‘Sometimes, there were little ostriches everywhere. My father liked hunting partridge, and if we went from Esquel to the valley, he would stop to hunt them. He didn’t hunt hares, but he would shoot foxes and skunks because they would eat our chickens. It was lonely. It made me very shy and I wasn’t used to seeing many people at all. When it was time to go to school, Mama would come with us to Esquel and Dada would stay in the camp to look after the animals. We
would walk up to the top of the hill where the Freemans lived, and that’s where we lived, in a place called Bryn Amlwg. ‘I had to live in Esquel to go to school when I was seven. The school year in those days lasted from September to May. I walked to school every day, starting at eight and finishing at mid-day. I didn’t have very much Spanish when I started, because until then, we’d spoken only Welsh at home.’ Alvina stayed in school until sixth grade, or year seven in UK terms, being the beginning of secondary schooling, but there wasn’t a secondary school in Esquel at the time, so: ‘... My mother took me to St David’s, the English boarding school in Trelew: there were some fifty pupils there in all. I couldn’t speak a word of English, and when my mother left me, I cried as if it was the end of the world. I had five- and six-year-olds teaching me, and I was 15. When I was 17 or 18, I went back to the camp, doing housework, tending flowers and looking after the chickens.’ Emptiness. An erosive wind. A strength
of character that won’t allow a person to be bowed by that wind scything in pretty much relentlessly. Those are just some quotidian facets of life under a big sky, a Patagonian sky. Gwalia Patagonia by Jon Gower is published by Gomer at £14.99 gomer.co.uk Photographer Andrew Morris won the inaugural British Council International Wales International Young Artist Award and travelled to Patagonia as part of his award in 2014. amorrisphotography.co.uk
p31 Gaiman, Andrew Morris, 2015 The former home of Alwina Thomas who passed away a few years back with everything still in its place, exactly how it was. p32&33 Penant, Andrew Morris, 2015 Typical farmhouse interior - amateur radio broadcaster Fred Green’s family kitchen; now empty and preserved but occasionally still frequented by his children Mary, Alwen ,Charlie and Eric ( now all in their 60s) for a collective mate , the popular communal Patagonian infusion, drunk through a metal straw from a hollow gourd. p34 Yr Allorau / Los Altares , Andrew Morris, 2015 During the early years, the first Welsh pioneers would take three months to cross the dessert by wagon train, over a desolate plain that no wheel had ever travelled. It now takes 7 hrs from Gaiman to Trevelin, snaking along the Chubut river that connects the two Welsh settlements.
1865 How can you bring an archive to life, to make it relevant to an audience from another time? A creative team were given access to the National Library of Wales’ Patagonia archives and came up with a prototype for an interactive experience that mimics the consequences of leadership decisions. What follows is a group response to that process from artist/photographer, Jorge Lizalde, Allison John & Glesni Jones (of digital producers Yellobrick) and technology partners Hoffi.
As human beings we are hard wired for empathy and it is part of a set of basic human functions – one that we all share. So how can empathy make us better storytellers? Can we harness such ingrained responses to better tell stories, uncover hidden histories, and to breathe life into archives? We wanted to investigate how we could create new meaning from archival material and discover what the barriers were for new audiences to the content itself. We were particularly interested in whether archives can be inspirational. Could they become an experience, a reinterpretation or a hack? Ultimately we wanted to interpret the material in a new way rather than replicating something that already exists. These were the questions that we were considering during the development of our prototype. We wanted to create something that would become a conduit between the audience and the content to help them to engage and make the content relevant. Through this experience we wanted the audience to play an active part in the experience that we would make – one that would give them agency. Survival, consequences, culture were the main themes that interested us. We wanted audiences to be active and participate and become central in the story at the heart of the archives. Looking at the story of Patagonia, we considered which role the user would play within the experience. Taking the format of the story of Patagonia the user is cast in the role of a leader, based on Lewis Jones, the president of the settlement. So, at the beginning, the user is asked to collect people for a journey. Everyone is then taken to an unknown environment where
the user has to take charge and responsibility for those people in their care and ultimately survive. Faced with questions from the collected people, the leader’s simple yes or no answers would have their own consequences, which mirror the real world scenarios faced by the early Welsh settlers in Patagonia. With decisions having to be made quickly in order to progress, and each decision having a consequence – good or bad – the interaction can be overwhelmingly emotional. And by focusing on the situation, rather than the archive material, the audience is put in a difficult situation, where they really have to weigh up outcomes and pay attention to how they feel. At the end of the interaction there would either be a thriving colony or none - a win/lose scenario. —CCQ The development of the 1865 prototype was funded by: Nesta, the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, The Arts and Humanities Research Council and The Arts Council of Wales. There will be an exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of the migration to Patagonia at the National Library of Wales later this year. llgc.org.uk jorgelizalde.com yellobrick.co.uk hoffi.com nesta.org.uk
p35 Jorge Lizalde | Yellobrick
Watch This Space In a vast, Soviet-era, former naval headquarters overlooking the Caspian Sea, YARAT, the Azerbaijani, not-for-profit, contemporary art organisation, has opened an art centre. Ric Bower went there and discovered that real power is soft power. In so many ways Baku is a place where different worlds meet. The fact that everyone over a certain age speaks Russian attests to the Soviet occupation of Azerbaijan for the majority of the 20th century. Azerbaijan may be one small nation amongst many small nations in central Asia, but it seems to have a clear understanding of the potential agency of culture. YARAT, which means ‘create’ in Azerbaijani, was founded by the artist Aida Mahmudova and a group of her fellows in 2011. This is not a public-funded initiative, although it operates on such a scale as to make engagement with government bodies inevitable. YARAT runs a residency programme giving artists their own space in the city and set up YAY, a commercial gallery, which operates as a social enterprise providing those same artists with a means to show and sell their work. The interface between the delicate, chaotic processes of creativity and the glitzy Middle Eastern art world could, in my mind, be problematic. This prompted me to ask Aida Mahmudova what her vision was for the organisation in the coming years. She explained that she is primarily aiming to further the organisation’s educational activities, including the opening of a dedicated teaching space; education forms a central part of the ethos of YARAT. She went on to describe the crucial process of fostering communication with potential investors as being a journey on which partners and artists gradually learn to trust each other. The first showing of YARAT’s permanent collection, Making Histories, curated by Suad Garayeva, is the opening exhibition at the centre. Highlights of the show include a number of works that demonstrate remarkable restraint in their execution. Nevin Aladağ’s Five Stone Game (2009-2012) represents, through a grid of sepia prints, an ancient, central Asian pastime. The impossibility of representing this simple activity intelligibly through still images seems to question whether relocating the past into the present is ever possible. Idris Khan is perhaps more familiar to western audiences and his 2009 collaboration with choreographer Sarah Warsop, Lying in Wait, takes the form of a life-size, triple-screen projection. A dancer is seen performing complex codified gestures in a generic library space. The visually sparse environment, the layering, which is a key part of Khan’s vocabulary, and the video’s monochrome treatment conspire to force engagement with the dancer’s urgent movements. A similar
visual language is adopted by Orxan Hüseynov’s eight-screen video installation, Atelier Sovetsky (2014), where the formal elements of the work are rigorously controlled to great effect. Perhaps this is, in part, a seldom-heralded benefit of the traditional craft-based training that Hüseynov, and many other Azeri artists received at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Art. Faig Ahmed’s Threads (2009) is a light-footed engagement with the traditional processes of Azerbaijani carpet making. He is an extraordinary character and perhaps the embodiment of what programmes like YARAT can bring into being. The cavernous upper level of the YARAT centre is taken up with The Home of My Eyes, a body of work the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat was commissioned to create for the opening of the centre. It is a wholehearted attempt to document her transactions with a cross-section of Azeri citizens through the language of formal, photographic studio portraiture. The task she set herself, to discover aesthetic unity in a nation’s diversity, was ambitious, even for a woman of her formidable talents. She has lavished each silver gelatin print with her trademark handwritten scripts; the words, written across the faces, were the subject’s own, interwoven with traditional poetry from the region. There are powerful passages of portraiture in the series, but there were some images that did not catch light in the unforgiving furnace of the photographic studio; and the patchwork hang rather diluted images that individually demand serious time and attention. YARAT is a ship, constantly in motion; it should not be judged as something fixed. That it exists at all is worth celebrating and an example to other small nations who will not, for whatever reason, invest in the facilitation of such projects.—CCQ yarat.az
p37 Five Stones Game, Nevin Aladag, 2009-12 38 Fine Art Photograph Prints, dimensions variable Copyright Nevin Aladag. Courtesy of the artist and Rampa, Istanbul Installation view, YARAT Contemporary Art Centre, Baku Photo: Rauf Askyarov, Courtesy YARAT
The Hand, the Face, the Gaze On the day of the opening of The Home of My Eyes, at YARAT in Baku, Ric Bower talks to Shirin Nishat about her new portraits of Azeri people. For over two decades, Shirin Neshat has created visual meditations on political, religious and feminist issues in her native Persia. Her lyrical video and photographic works have attracted numerous awards, including a Silver Lion at the 66th Venice Film Festival, the Lillian Gish Prize in 2006 and the First International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennale. In 2014 YARAT, the Azeri contemporary art organisation, commissioned Shirin Neshat to make a new body of work, which became The Home of My Eyes. Ric Bower: The Home of My Eyes is an emotive title. Why is home important in the context of this project? Shirin Neshat: Having lived in exile since 1996, as you can imagine, home is a poignant concept for me. Also, in neighbouring Azerbaijan, I feel as though I’m going back in time to my childhood. Azerbaijan and Iran have a shared history as we were once part of the same country. There are people from so many different countries, languages, religions and ethnicities here. I felt that the opening show for YARAT should be a tribute to the diverse spirit of Azerbaijan. RB: Was it daunting being tasked to fill such a vast area? SN: When I first walked into this cavernous upper space at the YARAT centre, it felt like a chapel and I resolved to imbue a spiritual
sensibility in the work. The installation of photographs, here at YARAT, was partially inspired by my video Turbulent (1998). Turbulent was a two-channel projection, where the viewer was situated in the middle, between the screens. This show is intended to generate that same emotional intensity: the gazes of the people in the portraits and their gestures meeting each other across the space; the viewer is caught in front of them, but also in between them. This installation is meant to be very sculptural. I didn’t want it to be a conventional set of portraits, or even a conventional photography installation. I wanted it to be a form of narrative, to convey emotional agency through the way it was installed. RB: So the work is about finding unity in diversity? SN: Yes. What I love about portraiture is that it can take ordinary people and turn them into monuments.
felt comfortable and their gestures became pure improvisation. RB: What was the relevance of the questions you asked your subjects, prior to the images being made? SN: While making another photography project in Egypt in 2013, titled Our House Is on Fire, which depicted impoverished elders caught up in the revolution, I learnt that talking to my subjects put them at ease in front of the camera. It was a way to help them trust me. In this case, as I asked my subjects about their relationship to the idea of ‘home’, their answers were quite nationalistic. This could be due to the fact that the people of Azerbaijan are generally very proud of their recent independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. I sensed that they celebrated the idea of being Azeri, regardless of where they originated from.
RB: How did your subjects respond in front of the camera?
RB: How do you decide whether to use moving or still images when you engage in a project?
SN: It’s interesting; they are from a different culture than me. They didn’t necessarily know much about art - we didn’t even speak the same language - but when I started photographing them, there was an instant connection. I explained how I wasn’t trying to make them play a role or be someone other than who they really were. Eventually they
SN: My work has generally become more narrative, whether photographic or film based. I no longer seem to be able to make one single image that works on its own. This installation of many portraits is one body of work; it’s hard for me to see each photograph in isolation. When it comes to photography, I am consistently a minimalist. I reduce my
p39 Mahira, from The Home of My Eyes series, Shirin Neshat, 2014-2015 Silver gelatin print and ink, 152.4 x 101.6 cm Copyright Shirin Neshat Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels p40&41 Soliloquy, Shirin Neshat, 1999 Production still Copyright Shirin Neshat, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
elements to the hand, to the face, to the gaze; I take a very sculptural approach to the figure. This is not the same in my filmmaking. In filmmaking, I use landscape, choreography and music. I use movement and colour at times too. There’s a severity to photography and to human portraiture, in particular. Nothing is more powerful than human expression in my mind. In film you can do what you need to do with the mood of the room, the dialogue and the atmosphere. I’ve never been seduced by that within photography. I’ve learned to keep them separate; two completely different mediums. RB: You wrote the subjects’ responses to the questions you asked them prior to photographing them directly on the portraits and mixed it with poetry. Can you talk about that process?
has addressed Iranian politics, is because I still feel deeply connected to my country. Here, it was about the humanity of my subjects, the cultural aspect. I know a bit about the history here, but I didn’t want to involve myself in their politics. I think I’m interested in history, much more than politics these days, anyway. When I look back at my own work, I see how my work has framed some historical moments of Iranian culture, such as the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in the Women of Allah and the 1953 CIA organized coup which was depicted in my first feature film, Women Without Men, and most recently The Book of Kings which captures the Green Movement of 2009. I’m also currently working on a film about the iconic Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, which looks at the history of modern Egypt from King Farouk to the present day.
SN: Yes, the texts inscribed on the photographs are a mix of the characters’ responses to my questions as well as poetry by the 12th century poet Nezami Ganjavi. Ganjavi was a famous Persian poet who moved to Azerbaijan; Iranians and Azeri’s have been arguing over this poet for a long time. We selected sections from his famous Khamseh (five), so named for its five-part structure, to integrate into the calligraphy and wrote them over and over. It’s all very carefully translated, line by line. It becomes like a mantra for each of the subjects.
RB: Why did you decide to limit the portraits to monochrome?
RB: It’s almost an act of love, something you’re lavishing on them.
RB: Can you elaborate on what you were saying about the relationship between politics and history?
SN: Yes, when we were getting them ready for the portraits, combing their hair, they felt that I was taking care of them, making them feel special and important. They appreciated it; they were being made to look their best. I had them sit down afterwards and look through all the images and see how beautiful they looked. They were always amazed. They entered as strangers and they left with us hugging them goodbye. In a short time, it became a very personal connection.
SN: I find colour to be too seductive and distracting. I like the severity of black and white. With my film, Women Without Men, for example, I drained the colour. In the video work I did with Philip Glass, Passage, the people appear to be black silhouettes but the landscapes are in colour. That work referenced the Zoroastrian symbolism of water, fire and air. For me, there should be a reason for using colour.
SN: I find by looking at the past, you learn how history repeats itself. There is a circular nature to the process of people fighting for power, then resting, then beginning all over again. —CCQ
The Home of My Eyes, Shirin Neshat is on show at YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Azerbaijan until 23 June 2015
RB: Can I ask, how this was your first nonpolitical work? SN: Because I didn’t feel connected to the political situation here. The reason my work
When You Do Not Have Anything, Then Everything is Yours Azerbaijani Faig Ahmed’s artistic practice disassembles the complexities inherent in traditional eastern rug making, while his curation is based on forgetting the past and starting from scratch. Ric Bower talks to him about his art and his long-standing relationship with the arts complex YARAT, in Baku, and in an art scene that’s developing its own distinctive voice. Faig Ahmed has shown in New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Dubai, Moscow and Hong Kong. He was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 3 and represented Azerbaijan in their first appearance at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, and again in 2013. He is now resident at YARAT (which means ‘create’ in Azerbaijani), founded in 2011 by Aida Mahmudova and a group of artists, where he continues his exploration of traditional craft and curating a new generation of practitioners.
FA: Artists are very strange beings. In general, I am looking for interesting people. I curated a group show called Zavod in conjunction with YARAT in 2013 featuring works by 29 emerging Azerbaijani artists. It was held in an abandoned ex-Soviet factory which made air conditioning units for all of the USSR. I remember saying at the time that these artists are conducting archaeological research, but through the medium of art. Some of the people I found were really raw, they had absolutely no experience in making art; they were studying at the medical university at the time. Their way of looking at things was interesting, though, and they were interested in the artistic process; they had their own vision and that is why I chose them.
Ric Bower: I can’t get over that they let you sleep in the studios. There aren’t many studios in the UK where you can stay past 10pm. How long have you had a studio at YARAT? Faig Ahmed: I know, it’s great. I have had a studio here for a year, and I was a YARAT board member before that; all those involved have different skills, which we have contributed to the project as a whole. The studios for artist residencies, where we are now, were inaugurated in 2014. The art centre, with the Making Histories show curated by Suad Garayeva, and the Shirin Neshat commission, The Home of My Eyes, they both open tonight of course.
RB: Do you encourage collaboration at YARAT – reflective and critical partnerships, that is? FA: Collaboration is the hardest thing, and I do not mean working with curators. Curators are like glue in the art world, they bring together people who have different modes of thinking; they bring an overview. I, personally, do not want to collaborate at present.
RB: Where did you study? RB: Tell me about your own practice then. FA: I studied in the sculpture faculty of the Baku Art Academy. It was a traditional Soviet school, geared towards social realism. They were good at teaching you the craft, how to do [things], but they did not encourage free thinking. The trouble was that in order to develop, of course, you have to think freely.
FA: I have little interest in modernism. I am drawing upon a time when art was not something separate but instead it was a part of everyday life. The carpet-making process, and the symbols within the carpets, become part of my own personal explorations into life. I have been involved in a number of different religions over the years – Christianity, Islam, Krishna and Sufism; for me they are all ways of exploring myself. I used to think of my art as something that I did on the side, but I came to understand that it did not work like that.
RB: Was the education you received there in any way useful? FA: For the most part, no. After the USSR broke up, all of us who had been there had the feeling that we had lost a lot of time. We simply did not have access to the information we needed. Most of my contemporary art education came through my own travelling and just through looking. The younger artists, who have grown up after independence, now have the opportunity to learn about contemporary practice through YARAT’s programme of education which includes workshops, lectures and external artists visiting the studio. Education comes first; when you know what is going on you can then build a practice.
RB: So you do not view your artistic development as being separate from your development as an individual? FA: Indeed. It started as a personal journey for me, but for the next step I must destroy what has gone before. I think that anything, if it is to move on, must be prepared to do this. I often subconsciously understand what I am doing; it starts from the subconscious and then becomes something visual. What interests me most at present is working directly with the carpet-makers, being involved in the process, when the hand and the head come together in the material. I do not consider myself an artist really, more an explorer. I have no sympathy with artists who seek self-expression. That is bullshit. We are all human together and that is what matters.
RB: When you are looking to populate a show, as a curator, do you seek out just work or do you look for whole practices and narratives that surround them? I have heard an extraordinary array of stories since I walked into these studios.
RB: How does selling work to decorate the walls of the well-heeled tie in with your and YARAT’s agendas?
that I share my studio with other artists; I do not want to feel that I have something that I might then become worried about losing. When you do not have anything, then everything is yours. —CCQ
FA: I have to sell to live. It comes down to energy, though. When you give of your energy you should be suitably recompensed for that. The gallery deals with the sales of the work which, in itself, can be problematic; they want an artist to do more of that which they know will sell, which can end up spoiling them. I am always keen to work with any institutions; I have more connection with the people I am working for then. I am doing a commission for free at the moment for one. Personally, I do not need a car or stuff like that. I even like to make sure
Faig Ahmed’s solo exhibition Omni Mutantur, Nihil Interit was at Montoro 12 Contemporary Art, Rome, Italy 12 March – 24 April 2015 faigahmed.com
Hole, Faig Ahmed, 2011 Woollen handmade carpet, 100 x 100cm Courtesy of the artist and Yay Gallery
Hopeless and Beautiful Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s nine channel hourlong film installation, The Visitors, was the popular hit of Artes Mundi 6. Ric Bower talks to him about a career that spans pop music, durational performance and two projects for the Venice Biennale. Ragnar Kjartansson’s provenance as a performer and creator is formidable, with a CV that extends back to the 90s when he was an aspiring pop star. His durational celebrations of the creative act seem to affirm, as he describes it, not only the hopelessness but also the beauty inherent in the human condition. Ric Bower: You spent a full six months in Venice in 2009 making a painting a day of your friend for your performance The End. Have you been offered the keys to the city, or your own executive toilet perhaps?
Ragnar Kjartansson: That’s what I thought would happen, but sadly not. In fact, it is so unfair... RB: It must have been amazing to have that length of time to concentrate on one aspect of your practice and to get pissed with a friend on a daily basis. I understand you drunk beer constantly. What did you talk about? RK: He is a very profound guy; we talked about Nietzsche because that was what he was reading at the time. The painting is a performative thing in itself for me. I love to talk and paint. I used to dress up to paint when I was in art school. During the abstract modules I would dress up like an action painter and chain smoke. My practice is more about the theatricality of it all than the performance per se.
RB: You’re immersed in Icelandic subcultures. What’s the scene like? RK: Pretty much the same as in the UK, I think. It is confident because we have the likes of Sigurlaug Gísladóttir and Björk and they show up to concerts. The fact that they never moved away brings a certain confidence. I was in a band called Trabant. It was electroclash with nudity and glitter, very camp, like Queen. It was a really good rock ‘n’ roll show, and the music was... well, all right. I remember, we did a tour round Britain on the toilet circuit. We had just been signed by Southern Fried Records, which is Norman Cook’s label, and we thought we were about to make it big time. We had this tiny fucked-up tour bus; you could feel the semen in the fabric of the seats. I remember we were somewhere in the Midlands. There were maybe ten teenagers in the audience staring blankly at us as I was singing my heart out. All my clothes were off apart from the gold knickers. The song climaxed in crescendo of guitar madness and, as the feedback faded, I heard a Brummieaccented voice shout, “Get off the stage you faggot”. I understood Britain so much better after that tour. RB: Expectation is a terrible thing, in music and in art. Everyone is so ready to measure your successes and failures with their own particular units of measurement. How do you deal with that?
RK: I was so ambitious when I was in rock ‘n’ roll. We did a gig once and there were important journalists watching; when the gig did not go so well I threw myself in a ditch and cried... for real. I never had any expectations with my career in art though; it was something I did on the side. I still play a lot now. The musicians in The Visitors are all friends and we play together. It’s like a musical social club. RB: The performative element of music, the repetition, and even the ritual, all seem to be tightly woven into your practice. RK: Yes, I once had a great night drinking whisky with the artist Ulay. He told me he had been studying aboriginal cultures and spiritual rituals, and to try and understand them through performance art, he took the faith out of them, turning them into humanistic rituals. I really liked this idea. My own work is coming out of a Chekhovian outlook, ‘it is all hopeless but it is beautiful’; that is my worldview, in so many ways, and it leaks into my work. RB: A kind of bitter sweetness. RK: Yes, yes. I was raised really religious; my mother is very religious even now. Sometimes I miss it. RB: Did your faith just walk out one day? RK: Sort of. It was not the problem of
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evil, or anything like that. It was the problem of religious people. So many of them were arseholes, it just doesn’t make sense. I still miss that feeling, but I gained a lot in its place. RB: Can you tell me how you’ve come to understand the place relationships have, both in your life and in your practice? RK: Relationships have such a big place in my life. I use art to keep friendships alive. I am an individualist, but I believe we are alone together. We collaborate and work as friends in communities, like being jazz musicians; one day we are the Miles Davis band and the next we are the Dizzy Gillespie band, depending on whose idea we are running with. I believe in camaraderie and I get obsessed with people. It’s like childhood when I would go out and play with my friends; that’s what I do now with my work. Making work with my friends is more fun than just meeting up for a beer! RB: And so with music, which way are you drawn? Towards Apollo or towards Dionysius? RK: I am drawn to both. In my work there is blues and country, but there’s also German Lieder. I always seem to use western music in my work, I am not sure why. I think that tension between the forces of order and the forces of chaos is what it is all about in many ways. The band I have listened to most in recent years is undoubtedly The National. I made a piece with them, A Lot of Sorrow, where they played their three-minute, twentyfive second song, Sorrow, live on stage, repeatedly and continuously, for six hours. I assumed the role of the roadie, bringing the musicians food and water throughout the performance. RB: It must be an interesting starting point, when you know their work so well but they, the band, don’t know you. RK: Pop stars, like them, are used to that situation. You never really know them anyway; you just think you do. RB: What is it about the process of repetition that changes something? RK: It becomes sculptural somehow and, most importantly, repeating something takes the narrative out of it, it becomes solid. I come from a background in painting; it feels like I am turning songs into paintings by repeating them. My approach comes from artists like John Cage, Chris Burden and Marina Abramović.
RB: Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve mentioned elsewhere about your particular fascination with the practices of female artists, can you expand a little? RK: I just find it amazing that half of humanity, until recently, did not have a voice. Perhaps the first female artist to bring her own body into the arena of art discourse was Carolee Schneemann and she is still alive. I think that, in 100 years, the likes of Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons will be side-lined by the great revolution in feminist art. RB: Are you planning on growing old gracefully? RK: I have a great role model, on that front, in my godmother, who was a Lieder singer. She was born in 1900, she always wore black gowns with white pearls and she had no furniture in her tiny basement flat.
She grew old very gracefully and was super, duper cool. Age is the greatest luxury we can have as human beings. It is better than the alternative after all. RB: When your six-month performance, The End, was over you were in possession of 144 oil paintings of your friend. How do you relate to the objects that come into being through your practice? RK: Icelandic culture is 1100 years old, but it is not a culture of objects; there are no old castles or revered objects to speak of, there are just stories. Because of this, visual art did not really get going in Iceland until the early 20th century and, in my view, it did not really resonate properly with our culture until the conceptual movement got going. RB: Did you become dissatisfied with painting?
RK: I still paint regularly now; I was never dissatisfied with it as a process. My practice just led me in a different direction. I paint figuratively, I can’t think in a way that results in the creation of abstract works.
p45 Ragnar Kjartansson at Cardiff School of Art & Design, Ric Bower, 2015 p46&47 The End - Venice, Ragnar Kjartansson, June 2009 Performance installation Six month performance during the 2009 Venice Biennale during which 144 paintings were made Commissioned by the Center for Icelandic Art. Photo: Rafael Pinho © Ragnar Kjartansson; images courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik p48&49 A Lot of Sorrow, Ragnar Kjartansson and The National, 2013-2014 Single channel video Edition of 10 and 2 artist’s proofs Duration: 6 hours, 9 minutes, 35 seconds A Lot of Sorrow took place at MoMA PS1, as part of Sunday Sessions. Sunday Sessions is organized by Jenny Schlenzka, Associate Curator with Mike Skinner, Producer and Alex Sloane, VW Fellow. Photographs: Elisabet Davidsdottir © Ragnar Kjartansson and The National; images courtesy of the artists, Luhring Augustine, New York, and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik.
RB: How do you balance being an informal ambassador for a small but proud nation, and all the inevitable agendas surrounding that position, with the demands put on you by the international art market? RK: It’s not a big issue in Iceland. We have our independence now and there is no longer that struggle and insecurity to deal with. RB: Do you feel the role of an artist in today’s society carries a responsibility? RK: I am a very political person in my private life but my work seems to be quite decadent. My socialism does not always shine through perhaps. I really believe in art but I find it ridiculous to believe in my own art. Four years ago Jp Morgan threw a party in 2013 when I was in Massimiliano Gianni´s Arsenale show. Their richest clients were there and the champagne was flowing. When the time came for me to say something, I stood up and said “Dear people, thank you for affording me this opportunity to share my work with the world and now please join me in singing The Internationale.” RB: You’re always very stylishly turned out. How many suits do you have and do you have a walk-in wardrobe? RK: I stash them in my daughter’s room, she is four and she says to me: “Why do you keep your suits in my room Daddy; why can’t you keep them in your room?” When I turned thirty I decided I would always wear a suit. RB: And, finally, what really bores you? RK: The only thing that really bores me is my own insecurity. —CCQ
Ragnar Kjartansson is represented by Luhring Augustine in New York: luhringaugustine.com and i8 Gallery in Reykjavik: i8.is. Artes Mundi 6 was at National Museum Cardiff, Chapter and Ffotogallery, 24 October 2014 - 22 February 2015
Gathered Threads Dutch textile artist, Tilleke Schwarz, pins down her eclectic observations in fine threads and fragments of fabric. Emma Geliot explores her magpie world.
In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon’s hero, Christopher, is compelled to verbally articulate every sign or bit of text that he sees. It’s impossible to leave Schwarz’ solo show at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff without signs leaping out at you – odd street names, instructions, polite notices and anti-dog fouling prohibitions. Schwarz started with embroidery in the 1970s, went to a free art school in The Hague on a pay-as-you-go basis and is as clearly
influenced by contemporary art practice (a yellow background in one work is a nod to Katharina Fritsch) as by traditional embroidery. Although art school trained, this artist doesn’t keep a sketchbook, just a notebook and an archive of ideas, snippets and threads of all colours. She also has a highly developed sense of humour and a wry eye for detail. The exhibition, which brings together twelve textile works, including three new ones, allows thematic threads (no pun intended) of
ideas to emerge as Schwarz manipulates scale, colour and texture, mixing traditional embroidery techniques with ready-made patches, fragments of cloth and a free-style technique. Working directly onto un-stretched cloth, often hand-dyed, the process of drawing together seemingly unconnected imagery can take up to six months. Reviewing its progress, Schwarz will often unpick what must represent many hours of work to adjust the composition to her satisfaction. In Scooped Up,
which features her Dyson, she decided that the machine was too much in its entirety and unpicked part of the outline, leaving a clot of matter suspended like a lone dust bunny waiting to be inducted into the great fluffy rabbit ranch in the sky. And there are other machines and mechanical objects – her pencil sharpener, looking unnervingly anthropomorphic; a car for her husband; a scooter; a tape-dispenser – along with flowers, cats (always at least one cat), iconic figures and maps. But, it is the text
that draws the eye in. Stitched freehand, often running down a line mid-word; sometimes made more prominent with contrasting thread shadows so that it leaps out and grabs attention. Only the artist’s name is machine-made as she uses, as her signature, those school labels that evoke memories of chalk dust and forgotten homework – Tilleke Schwarz The Netherlands – in red thread. Back to Christopher and his compulsion for a moment because I realise, as I move from piece to piece, that I am compelled to
read every scrap of text and my brain tries to codify it as I go. But without the original font or context, this is hard work and, at the same time, immensely rewarding. What is going on here? Connections begin to spark and there’s deferred gratification as, without the formal clues of typeface, the hilarity of some of the words only registers right at the end of reading them. Most interestingly the accepted hierarchy of image and text is tipped on its head. Large creatures – a T-Rex, for example – seem diminutive next to a dodo; authoritarian
warnings and official information have the same status as the news that a kitten has survived a full washing machine cycle (news items like this are a regular feature). Schwarz was caught by the idea of unfollowing on social media and of revenge on the machine that torments her. There’s more revenge in a rendering of a note from an eccentric B&B host – Mr Tom Bola – who kept moving the breakfast time goal posts. Safety notices, graphic instructions on how to use a hotel toilet, reassurance that recovery is free (but is it imminent?); all life is here. —CCQ
p50 Used Cloth, Tilleke Schwarz, 1995, 70 x 75cm
Tilleke Schwarz’s exhibition is presented by the Makers Guild in Wales at Craft in The Bay, curated by Charlotte Kingston. It runs until 10 May 2015. A book, New Potatoes, can be bought from the Makers Guild in Wales shop at Craft in the Bay and via Tilleke Schwarz’s website. tillekeschwarz.com makersguildinwales.org.uk
p51 Racing thoughts, Tilleke Schwarz, 1996, 66 x 66 cm p52 Business as Usual, Tilleke Schwarz, 2005, 60 x 60cm p53 Scooped up, Tilleke Schwarz, 2013, 65 x 61 cm All works hand embroidered on linen Photography: Rob Mostert
Dirty Water Renzo Martens’ practice cannot be contained within traditional creative boundaries, nor is it defined purely by creative output. The conversations and activities he facilitates pry and pick at the fabric of the art world and the power structures on which it depends, as Ric Bower discovers. The Institute of Human Activities (IHA), the organisational vehicle through which Renzo Martens works, is in the process of setting up a critical academy of art in a deeply impoverished plantation, formerly owned by chemical giant Unilever, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Believing that genuine altruism is an unattainable ideal, Martens is candid about his own fallibility and cultural limitations, in the the sense of him being just ‘another interfering white man’. Being confronted with his practice can therefore be a very uncomfortable experience for a westerner. Martens and his young family are in the process of moving to live on the plantation where he works. I spoke to him, in the very different environment of a central Cardiff hotel, about his Artes Mundi presentation. I began by asking him what similarities there were between the IHA’s Gentrification Program - which, simplistically expressed, is Martens’ bid to bring ‘cappuccino culture’ to the DRC - and a stereotypical Western art school. Renzo Martens: We don’t, and couldn’t, teach people how to make art. We lay on a critical curriculum for them to work from. Ric Bower: How many plantation workers are involved with the project?
RM: Those who made the sculptures, on show at National Museum Cardiff, you mean? RB: Yes. RM: There was a degree of organic selection; not everyone from the former Unilever plantation felt like sitting around working on clay all day; or they would only do it to get the free meal, not that that was a problem. The important thing was not actually the making of the sculpture but the conversations that occurred in the groups whilst we were together; conversations along the lines of: ‘We have been working for Unilever, and, therefore, for global economic markets, for five generations and yet we’re still living in mud huts and our kids can’t go to school. No one knows about this because the product we offer to the world does not carry this information.’ What spurs the global economy, in a post-industrial society, is no longer the raw commodity, palm oil or cocoa, but how that commodity is packaged. The people that work with us on the plantation have lived through some of the most dramatic societal changes imaginable in the last 100 years. They have changed language, religion, economic and political systems; they have had to change everything about themselves,
and not by choice but by force. Given then that the rest of the world is now poised on the brink of a period of seismic change, whether because of climate change, war, or an increasingly disenfranchised working class, these people on this plantation are experts. If there is one group of people in the world you want to learn from it is them. I don’t think it is merely a Pedagogy of the Oppressed we are presenting through IHA; we are not just saying that these people only need to be freed from the chains of oppression, although that is certainly part of it; we, in the West, also need to be freed from certain oppressions. We then, as socially critical artists, cannot afford to have our criticality managed by real estate developers and politicians who decide when, where, how and for whom criticality will be implemented. So it is for artists to take control… RB: ...of the structures in which they operate? RM: Yes. So I can’t just make socially critical art. I can’t just have exhibitions or run a gallery. I can’t just have an art centre, or be a curator. What I need to do, as an artist, is to take ownership and responsibility for capital accumulation through my work. RB: Is it the case that ‘art’, as a word, is
being overused to the point of redundancy? If instead we were to say ‘creative practice’, might that potentially broaden the definition to include a wider range of cultural activities?
RM: Yes, some of their campaigns have been terrific, but what we are seeing now is that multinational corporations are speaking the language of individual creative expression. Their engagement is entirely devoid of free thinking though. We found this out first hand at one point on the plantation when we were getting the children to make drawings of their ideal future. A security team burst in and confiscated the drawings; they had had a call from London...
RM: No, I am an artist, and I see being an artist as being very different from being a creative practitioner. Art is the arena in which matter can examine its own function, role and spirituality. The person who made that advertising poster across the street [gesticulates towards a perfume advertisement in the window of a shop] is certainly a creative practitioner, but it is not art. The advertisement will never consider its own role within culture and function in an even temporarily value-free white cube. That particular image of an attractive woman staring out at us exists only to demand something from us.
RB: That is shocking... RM: It is. So what art really needs is true autonomy; in so doing it can justifiably and unashamedly receive funding from anybody. RB: So then it is defining its own values, so to speak...
RB: If it is re-contextualised in five years time, into a gallery space, then it potentially changes…
RM: It is defining its own terms and conditions. I would happily take money from Unilever because I think autonomy resides in taking ownership of the systems within which we inevitably function. There is no such thing as innocent money from which artists can make innocent work. It is more relevant, politically, for the artist to assume responsibility for the inequalities that inevitably come about as a result of making the work. A number of artists recently boycotted the
RM: Sure, then it could work. RB: Could the traditional fine/applied art dualism be presenting us with a false dichotomy? Does it perhaps, as in the case of Oliviero Toscani’s AIDS images for Benetton, function within both realms?
19th Sydney Biennial because The Transfield Foundation was one of the sponsors. The Transfield Foundation is associated with Transfield Services who won a $1.2bn contract to provide welfare and infrastructural services at detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru. As a result of the pressure they withdrew their sponsorship. This was great on one level because it showed the power the artists had and the biennial went ahead without it. There is an irony, though, in that the same artists would have never been able to get to Sydney to show their work if it was not for the global inequalities that companies like Transfield Services are contracted to enforce. So we wash our hands of one thing but we are washing them in dirty water.
read through these vehicles is quite different from how it might be read in a gallery setting, for instance. RM: Of course. The critical art machine has very limited actual reach, even if it claims to be dealing with global issues. This is why I started the Gentrification Programme in the DRC. Art can also play games and lie; sometimes itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s even a mystery to the artist who made it. The project I am working on now, enabling the plantation workers to make clay self-portraits, on one level, is very straightforward: it generates money through the art market, which comes directly back to the workers. This will hopefully enable them to discuss the merits of art as social critique whilst they drink their own cappuccinos. We have already had many visiting speakers to the Institute. Urban theorist Richard Florida has lectured; we have also had political activists from Congo; this aspect of what we do we can map out and possibly, even, quantify. But what then actually transpires invariably reaches far beyond our limited imaginings.
RB: What I find particularly challenging about your approach is that it is fundamentally experimental. Do you see risk as essential to the process? RM: Yes, but the risks are taken for a specific purpose; in this case, to create a setting that is momentarily transparent. And, amongst other things, risk simply makes for much better art.
RB: You go out of your way, it seems, to upset the sensibilities of the politically correct liberal and yet you are unwilling to discuss your own narrative in relation to your work. Are you concerned that the waters will become just too muddy if you do?
RM: As an artist, do you assume responsibility for how your work is disseminated on television or YouTube, in particular? How it might be
RM: Yes. If you are a proper liberal then you will really hate my film Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, it should be pressing all your buttons. I am, however, happy to acknowledge that I am gaining credibility from the process of making art in this environment. RB: You allow the chocolate company, who are sponsoring the sculptures for you in the museum, a large area of gallery real estate to display their branding. Usually, when it comes to sponsorship and branding, the artist would seek to minimise its interference with the work. RM: That’s nonsense; I wanted them to make their branding as big as possible. That is how we have the possibility to create a real economy, and be really critical of it, too, by acknowledging and dealing with our economic dependencies. RB: Is there a line you draw between yourself and your practice? RM: I don’t really know if there is a line, but I try not to talk about myself when discussing the work; this opens up a certain distance between me and the work and also imbues it with some degree of objectivity. The ideas I put forward are, in essence, straightforward, they do not require an artist to execute them - anybody could figure it out. The point is that if socially critical art leads to the development of real estate projects, to gentrification in poor inner cities, then perhaps artists should be the ones taking full responsibility. You can be against it... RB: ...but it is a relevant position... RM: ...to back away and pretend it is not happening is just not good enough. RB: Maybe that is what an artist is then? RM: A blank canvas responding to the world? Yes. RB: And you have moved your young family to a plantation in Congo to inhabit the role more completely. RM: I needed to set up shop there I cannot achieve the things I want to achieve from Brooklyn or Berlin. I want the cappuccinos to be drunk and the conversations conducted on that former Unilever plantation. It is the boiler room of modernism. RB: It strikes me that you have moved on from
the optimism epitomised by Magnum - a photography agency that, at the beginning at least, believed the photographs they were taking had the capacity to change the world. Instead it would appear to have bitten us on the arse; making images of suffering has now perhaps become counterproductive. Do you have any relationship with the old guard of documentary photographers? RM: The promise that transparency would somehow lead to equality has not transpired. They believed that if they pictured reality, as they perceived it, and put it in the news it would bring it all closer to us. RB: So was it a naïve, idealistic dream? RM: No, I believe in it. My attempt to acknowledge my dependencies is itself an attempt to seek transparency. We are in a situation now where releasing images does not lead to change; it creates a separation. It does not leave the viewer on the same page as the described reality; the reality remains elsewhere. Martha Rosler’s series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home already questioned some of these issues a significant time ago, but we need to go much, much further to place our economics and our presence in these other realities. That’s what I wanted to do in Episode III: Enjoy Poverty. There is a reason why here, in the museum in Cardiff for Artes Mundi, there are only sculptures, self-portraits of plantation labourers. The labourers do not have any passports, they do not have any identity papers, they will never, in their entire lives, set foot on a plane and they will certainly never get a visa for the UK. A friend of mine, the Congolese artist Sammy Baloji was refused a visa recently, when he had a show at Rivington Place in London, and this is in spite of his considerable fame. We are all implicated in this; I think so much socially critical art goes wrong, remains sterile, because it does not take into account its own indebtedness to the very economic structures it critiques. I am not saying that we should not therefore make socially critical art; I am saying that it could become more potent if it takes responsibility for its own internal inequalities. It seems, that materially, socially critical art only produces public benefits in the Lower East Side of New York, in certain areas of Berlin or London. It is no coincidence that Unilever underwrote the Unilever Series in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern for twelve years, just across the Thames from their headquarters….
RB: There is a point in Episode III: Enjoy Poverty when you address World Bank officials and declare that poverty is a resource. One of the officials emphatically replies that “Poverty is not a resource but a shared defeat for the international community”. It surely can’t be a sustainable resource; by definition it destroys itself if it is successful. I am guessing you were just being provocative? RM: But that is true for any resource, oil, diamonds or even poverty, it will run out. RB: Gentrification has strong association with class in the English language. It strikes me that what you are doing in your Gentrification Programme goes much deeper and indeed, gentrification might be the wrong word for what you are doing. What you are bringing to these Congolese plantations is in fact soft power. RM: I just copy and paste what art does, turning it back on itself. I am force-feeding it its own tail. The Congolese are quite used to white tits like me, coming in with some plan or other, whether it is a neon sign or a new school; I am doing little more than observing it all. RB: How do you, as the programme becomes more established, avoid falling foul of the same issues you are critiquing in other organisations. RM: We can’t. If I wasn’t a white middle class guy with access to government funding and the ability to approach large companies to sponsor the show, then there would be no critical art programme in the Congo. It would not happen. All we can do is acknowledge our dependencies. —CCQ
Renzo Martens is at: Art Brussels, Non-Profit Solo Booth 25 April - 27 April 2015 A New Settlement, Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam, 2 May - 6 June 2015 A Lucky Day, KOW, Berlin, 2 May - 26 July 2015 The Matter of Critique, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2 May - 7 June 2015 humanactivities.org renzomartens.com
p55 Mbuku Kipala, Self Portrait without Clothes, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity, 2014, Chocolate, 33 x 30.8 x 33.5 cm Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities, Galerie Fons Welters Photo: Ric Bower p56 Small Self Portraits of the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League for Sale at Artes Mundi 6, National Museum Wales, with advertising posters for Jan Willem Jansen and Carlo Midiri of the Dutch Pastry Team, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities and Galerie Fons Welters p57 Launching Institute of Human Activityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Critical Curriculum, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities and Galerie Fons Welters p59 (from top) The New Settlement, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities and Galerie Fons Welters Emery Muhamba working on Self Portrait, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities and Galerie Fons Welters Creative Therapy in Former Unilever Commodity Store, Renzo Martens and The Institute for Human Activity Courtesy Renzo Martens, Institute for Human Activities and Galerie Fons Welters
Abject Objects Recent graduate Nikita McBride rescues urban detritus to create sculptural narratives that breathe new life and personality into the abandoned and the unloved. She describes the journey from rescue to rehabilitation. The process of creating work with particular objects is not always a visual one. I’m not always aware of the direction that the symbiosis between the work and the object is going to take, or even realise the impending associations until one object is fused with another. The dartboard, for example, was in my old studio for quite some time before I understood its potential. Finding materials on the street is the first stage of the process and the environment I live in often finds its way into what I’m creating. Everyday routines leave patterned impressions that frequently end up in my work. I find discarded domestic objects that have failed in function or have become outmoded and I bring them back to the studio
and combine compositions to find out-ofcontext relationships between them. So how do I get these often decomposing, mouldy, damp pieces of refuse to the studio? My partner in grime seems to be more than willing to squeeze crusty cement mixers, rain-flooded fridge freezers and dried out stagnant cisterns into the back of his 1997 VW Polo, taking them to whichever destination is needed, sometimes in the dead of night. The logistics of this transition of materials can sometimes be more unpredictable than the work itself. Often the narrative comes afterwards; my work is not intended to be autobiographical. I think of the work objectively during the process of creating,
but when I analyse the work, I relate to it subjectively. There is a psychological and often psychoanalytical element, but I am not always the first person to realise this. I think of the sculptures as behaviours that become individual characters. When one object is placed with another, once the connection is made, their personalities become vivid. —CCQ
Nikita McBride’s exhibition By deFault was at Arcadecardiff from 20 February – 07 March 2015
p60 By DeFault, Nikita McBride, 2015, mixed media photo: Jon Pountney (cardiffbeforecardiff.tumblr.com) p61 By DeFault, Nikita McBride, 2015, mixed media photo: Rhiannon Lowe and Ric Bower
Issue2015 6 Spring
How Do You Move an Art School? As the academic year began last year, so did a new chapter in the history of Cardiff School of Art & Design with a move to a new building that brings together all of the art disciplines under one roof. Petra Aydin Barberini meets staff and students on the campus. This place looks like it means business. No sign of the usual trail of ceramic dust, paint splattered footsteps or timber rubble that normally announces an art school, and I’m curious to find out how their new home suits the needs of today’s makers and thinkers. When I visit the new Cardiff School of Art & Design (CSAD) building, the first thing I spot is a hand-worked stainless steel crest, made by sculptor Gideon Peterson. On I go, through the glass doors with their bi-lingual welcoming signs, into a space that’s radically different from the Cardiff School of Art that I went to some decades ago. Moving the Art School from the wellestablished Howard Garden’s site, where it had been since the 1960s, to out-of-town Llandaff, was a brave decision. It’s hard enough to move premises, but transplanting a whole community of artists and designers is an even tougher proposition. Gaynor Kavanagh, Dean of the School of Art & Design, describes the mammoth new-build project, the extensive research and visits to other art schools, and the
cooperation with the architectural team, Austin-Smith: Lord and Tim Young: “Staff, students and technicians played their part in the design of the building from the outset. We were looking for a space for people to be dirty; a space for people to be clean; a space for people to be noisy; a space the artistic community could call home.” Artist Ingrid Murphy’s new Designer: Maker course has been one of the first in the new curriculum, which encourages a far more interdisciplinary approach to art and design education, with a concerted effort to blur the boundaries and cross-pollinate subjects. “The building is an architectural metaphor for the curriculum”, Murphy comments. “Everything’s in threes. I use the building to explain the course. The ground floor workshops are the root of all our practice; moving up to the studio spaces, where students work on their subjects; which are clustered around the Heart Space, where there’s a constant meeting and mixing of students and staff from all disciplines, particularly in collaborative project modules known as ‘Field’.”
This is no corporate speak; Murphy clearly loves the building, “It’s like being on a ship. You see your colleagues all the time; on the balconies, having tutorials, in the café; you can see them in their studios as you walk past. The communication is ten times better”, she says adding that she takes the lift daily just to see the vistas opening over the Heart Space. “You feel like God. You have loftier thoughts here”, she laughs, then adds more seriously: “A well-designed building encourages well-designed work and appropriate aspirations”. Students on some courses found it intimidating at first, as they were used to being secluded in small family-like groups. Now they seem to enjoy mingling with the other year groups and disciplines. Sometimes first year tutorials have the second and third years butting in as they pass by, and you hear them giving each other study tips. Murphy sees it as a dissertation advice service by osmosis, adding, “There is a more Bauhaus principle here, driving towards the School identity being stronger
Issue 6 than subject identity. Howard Gardens had a well-established identity historically. CSAD at Llandaff has to establish that identity purely through architecture and use of space”. Martijn Gommeren takes me to see CSAD’s FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory). Here makers of all ages and walks of life are encouraged to experiment or test prototypes. This is not a consultancy; it’s a place of making. It looks and sounds like a great accessible playground for students, staff and businesses alike, and it’s connected to a worldwide network of expert artists, makers, designers and electronic engineers. I’m tempted to stop, there and then and play, Gommeren’s enthusiasm is so infectious. It’s a place to investigate and invent to your heart’s content. Gommeren, manager of the FabLab explains that, along with the Cardiff Open courses, the aim is to allow the public to enjoy the full facilities of the college. The creative community of Cardiff needs to discover this place quickly - it has the potential of offering serious groundbreaking making and manufacturing advice. Sitting at the front of the building, with windows leading off the main reception area, the FabLab offers glimpses into the ground floor workshop facilities. All manner of things are possible when digital manufacturing methods are combined with traditional workshops: 3D printing, 3D scanning, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling, laser cutting, electronics and much more; while, just a few metres away, there’s a foundry, and workshops for ceramics, printmaking, metal, wood and textiles. As I sit in the Heart Space — a communal area on the first floor beneath a three-storey high light-well — conversation buzzes. There’s a steady flow of staff and students passing by and through, as well as higher up on the balconies above. Chris Glynn, Illustration lecturer, stops to tell me about one of his student’s involvement in a narrative project. I’m fascinated by the way that he gestures to her work space, on one of the levels above, as he talks about her. I half expect her to stick her head over the balcony and join in. Students frequently peer over and seek out a tutor. It feels like a village market place. Richard Morris, a furniture designer and Head of Enterprise, lovingly pats bare concrete and wooden bannisters as I ask him about the choice of materials for the building. “The great thing about using the materials in their natural colours is it avoids a group of artists and designers having to agree on a
colour scheme, as well as being ecologically responsible.” He had been part of the design team; the architects were constantly being asked to take things out of the design, to pare the building back to its bones and strip it of cladding. As well as being in keeping with the desire to be ecologically aware, it also led to savings in the budget, which allowed for investment in other areas to ensure that there was a consistent design language throughout, right down to the selection of chairs used in the Heart Space. “You notice that people have their favourite styles and shapes of chairs; they will seek out one particular style each time they visit the space”, Morris observes. “There’s no air-conditioning in here”, says Gareth Barham proudly. Barham, lecturer and product designer, is eager to show me around, the third such offer since I’ve visited. Each tutor seems to be particularly proud of different aspects of the building. “The open floors and balconies allow light to stream into the building and the air flows naturally”, Barham explains. “The upper floor has northfacing roof lights, allowing good light for the fine artists.” In the fine art studio, the third year students are busy preparing for their degree show. These are clusters of intimate spaces, which each student has personalised in a lively mix of composition, colour, canvas and paint, and, of course, the odd stuffed rat. Gazing over the rooftops, Barham points out the spires of Llandaff Cathedral, saying of the building’s cladding as the sun sets, “It’s lovely; it turns golden”. I ask him about Kavanagh’s ambition to create places to be clean, messy and noisy. “As product designers we like a blank canvas, a clean page to work from, a clinical environment. There’s a part of the creative process that needs to be messy and a time for almost laboratory conditions.” By contrast, some of the ceramics students were almost in tears at the shock of the initial sterility of their new environment. They soon made it their own and their work processes naturally turned their spaces into hives of industry. The ceramicists had given the architects the brief that doors should open automatically, to avoid having to go through shoving with their backsides, hands full of precious objects and covered in clay. In addition to the easy-opening doors, they now also have an industrial lift down to the workshops, where previously they had to navigate steps, a courtyard in all weathers and a series of key card security doors. How about room to be noisy?
p63&64 photos: After Alexey Titarenko, Rhiannon Lowe and Ric Bower, 2015 with thanks to students at CSAD p65 Sarah Martin with her work at CSAD, Rhiannon Lowe and Ric Bower, 2015 p66 Painting Studio, Rhiannon Lowe and Ric Bower, 2015
Barham mentioned that the product design teaching space was originally next to the balconies on the second floor, overlooking the Heart Space. “We had to reposition that and place it in the far corner of the studio, as the noise from downstairs would be a distraction at times. That was no problem. I’d rather reconfigure a teaching space and keep the airflow natural as it keeps our carbon footprint low.” As Barham shows me around the workshops we bump into Sue Hunt, Fine Art tutor. It’s intriguing to see a product designer and a fine artist thrilled at the prospect of their next team-teaching session. The enthusiasm here is clearly catching. In the short time I’ve been visiting, I’ve met artists, designers, staff and students who suggest that the building has improved their work life. Part of the design brief included communal areas. There’s a kitchen on each balcony. “Who’d have thought it? They’ve stayed clean. No paint in the sink. They are spotless”, Murphy remarks. At either side of the stairwells, at the end of each balcony, there are quiet areas with sofas. During Barham’s tour of the building, I peer over one of the balconies and see groups of students taking tea breaks. Some students wave. I wave back. I ask if anybody knows them. “No”, comes the reply. I think they just like waving. —CCQ
Incubating Life after art school can be tough. The sudden absence of critique or access to equipment and resources presents a challenge at a crucial time. Cardiff School of Art & Design set up the INC (Incubator) programme to ease this transition. AJ Stockwell describes its importance in the year after graduating from her MA in Ceramics. My most recent work stems from a concern with material consumption; of how materials are/can be experienced though social and cultural settings and of the propensity for mundane materials to affect human behaviour. I’m fairly analytical in my approach to making, which is probably what first drew me to ceramics; the processes and chemistry of the subject, its technological history and repetitive production. I’m fascinated by what materials are, their vibrancy and how this can be experienced contrastingly through both visual and performance arts practice (be this socially engaged or directed towards an audience). Having access to technical facilities, such as the ceramics and wood workshops at the university and a dedicated studio space, were the main reasons I applied for INC. At the time I was just about to finish my MA so needed somewhere to keep working. The prospect of having mentors both inside and outside of college was also attractive. I came to Cardiff last year to study ceramics at CSAD. My practice has always been concerned with material engagement and the MA here provided an opportunity to focus this through a specific material discipline. While studying Fine Art at Newcastle, I’d worked with sensors and metalwork to develop performative works that functioned independently. This initial move into performance through other media informed my practice throughout the MA and continues to do so in current projects. The emphasis at INC is on creating a sustainable business rather than developing the critical context of your work, but I have also found other opportunities to achieve this outside of the programme. I recently started as an intern with Warp (Welsh Artists Resource Programme) at g39, where I’ll be working for six months. It’s only been a month so far but I already feel that I’m in a much better position to push my practice forward. —CCQ aj-stockwell.com cardiff-school-of-art-and-design.org g39.org/warp scrunch, squeeze, plane (metal, clay, wood), AJ Stockwell, 2015
A Monumental Opportunity Jerwood Encounters: 3-Phase is a commissioning project that aims to ‘set up a space of encounter between the developing bodies of work and thinking of two artists and three visual arts organisations’. Cardiff-based Kelly Best talks about her experience of the first stage, at Eastside Projects, Brimingham. Much of my work deals with 2-dimensional sculptural concerns. I was already making work directly on walls and floors, rejecting the edges of the paper and working within the boundaries dictated by each new site. By working in this way, the tension between permanence and ephemerality came to the fore, and through conversations with Gavin Wade and the team at Eastside, it felt like a natural progression to create a structure which functions as the support for the drawing, as well as to make the jump to the creation of an object. The fragility of the unfixed, hand-drawn surface, combined with the solidity, scale and weight of the structure, seemed to address both of these ideas. My new piece, Velum, uses the full extent of Eastside Projects’ Second Gallery and is my most ambitious work to date. Interestingly, I also felt like an honorary member of the concurrent Birmingham Show (by a selection of artists who have lived, worked or studied within Birmingham). Having spent six weeks of a very generous installation period getting to know both the city and the people who shape its lively art scene, I was quickly made to feel very welcome. Although Velum was created specifically for the site, being both developed for and made at Eastside Projects, it will also travel to Jerwood Space, London, where it will be reinstalled, alongside new work by [the second artist in the project] Georgie Grace, in May. The gallery it will go into is smaller and I’m interested in seeing how the reduction in surrounding spatial volume might impose itself on the work, or perhaps provide greater focus on its monumentality. This will be my first show in London, following which, in October, the project will come full circle for me, and return to g39 in Cardiff. Jerwood Encounters offers an opportunity to develop a new body of work, with curatorial and practical support resulting in three exhibitions. It is already delivering much more than advertised. —CCQ The Jerwood Encounters: 3-Phase exhibition tours to Jerwood Space, London 13 May – 21 June, and g39 in Cardiff: Kelly Best 2 - 31 October and Georgie Grace 13 November – 12 December 2015 jerwoodvisualarts.org g39.org eastsideprojects.org kellybest.co.uk
Velum, Kelly Best, 2015, installation shot at Eastside Projects Image courtesy of the artist and Eastside Projects, Birmingham
Reasons to be Awkward (Part I) At the Awkward Bastards symposium at Birmingham’s mac, Emma Geliot found a whole host of creative people determined to subvert the status quo and mainstream their way out of the otherness ghetto of ‘diversity’. Your mission, should you choose to accept it et cetera: go out into the busy streets and corral the first 100 people you meet into a convenient place of congregation. Now ask all of those who can’t tick “White British” on an equal opportunities monitoring form to move to one side of the room. Then repeat with those who have any kind of impairment - physical, sensory, mental or medical - preferably using the social rather than the Government approved model. Don’t forget those who are gay, bisexual, transsexual or transgendered. Oh, and what the hell, send the women over to that side too. Now go up to the few remaining folk, standing awkwardly and feeling a bit exposed. Don’t be shy – you can stare, perhaps say something reassuringly patronising, but don’t, whatever you do, establish eye contact. Point them at a little roped off area and tell them to go and stand in it; explain that you’ll be having a big party on your side of the room, but that you’ll be bringing them things from time to time when you remember. It won’t be quite the fare that the partygoers will be enjoying, but it’ll be specially selected for them, based on your understanding of their needs. Right, I think I’ve hammered that point into the subterranean netherworld with a blunt mallet. Those of us attending the Awkward Bastards symposium, organised by Dash (Disability Arts Shropshire) in partnership with mac (Midlands Arts Centre), were definitely at the party, celebrating with a panel of what Gemma Marmalade described as, “Massive Awkward Bastards”, who have, in their own ways, found routes to a practice that doesn’t adhere to easy categorisation: practical, subversive,
challenging and often very, very funny - turning that non-specific term ‘diversity’ into equality through overt activism, pragmatic collectivism or highly individual action, invention and intervention. Usually there’s a point in a conference or symposium where everyone’s eyes glaze over a bit, where the digestion of lunch or the early rising to get there on time leads to some gentle snoring, but there wasn’t a moment when the attention could wander off. From the opening context setting – Scope’s disturbing statistics that show the majority of people are still uncomfortable around disability, and David Turner’s look at disability in the eighteenth century – through to the formation of the Black Arts Group with Marlene Smith, and on to curatorial strategies from Amanda Cachia and Queering the Museum with Matt Smith – it was all gripping. Gemma Marmalade makes up narratives that tell a different story about women, inadvertently creating urban myths that can find their way on to Wikipedia. One of these was her performance, Fish Wives (Sweet Science), a re-enactment of a mythical Italian tradition, where women in a small village establish a pecking order by beating each other with fish. The loser has to eat a pie made of the mangled marine remains. Marmalade’s performance is accompanied by an operatic aria, with a soprano as hapless referee/Greek chorus. Narratives are key here, and it’s the missing ones, the untold stories, which create a sense of being outside looking in. When curator and artist Matt Smith was let loose in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2011 for his project, Queering the Museum, he combined subtle repositionings of objects with the making
p70&71 Fish Wives (live performance), Ceri Hand Gallery, London, August 17th, 2013 Performers: Gemma Marmalade, Mel Marmalade, Monica Valcarcel-Saez Photo: Andrew Smith p71 (top) Ship of Fools, the vacuum cleaner, 2011, self-initiated residency and mental creative space, Hackney, London p72 Nabil Shaban, actor and founder of Graeae Theatre Company Tanya Raabe-Webber, 2011, mixmedia, oil on canvas, 30cm x 36cm p73 (l-r) Otters and Bears, Matt Smith, 2010, White Earthenware, Photography by David Rowan (c) Birmingham Museums Trust Civil Partnership Figure Group, Matt Smith, 2010, White Earthenware, Underglaze Colour and Enamels, Photography by David Rowan (c) Birmingham Museums Trust
Issue 6 of new ones to tell different stories. As Smith rightly points out, objects contain many stories and curators make choices about which of those stories are told. In
subsequent projects, in other museums and heritage settings, he has further developed his approach. Smith and Marmalade have spotted the gaping holes in the representation of specific groups (well, gender is probably rather more than a grouping) and done something positive about it. So, too, has Tanya Raabe-Webber, who challenged the National Portrait Gallery to come up with representations of people with disabilities in their pantheon of the great, the good and the interesting. When they couldn’t come up with any, she was commissioned to produce a series that finally began to redress this imbalance in the collection. Practical and creative solutions are one answer to the many-headed question: who are “we” as a society and who are the audience? However, in making a stand, artists who align themselves to a particular form of otherness are in danger of getting pinned down with a convenient label.
During the afternoon panel session, the question was asked: “Why is it so difficult to define yourself as a disabled artist?” The discussion quickly broadened out to the thorny issue of attaching any prefix before the word ‘artist’. With the various bits of equality legislation passing onto the statute books, the political activism of some groups has had the wind swatted out of its sails. Sadly the legal intention isn’t reflected by societal attitudes, and artists with disabilities, from black and ethnic minority backgrounds or whose gender or sexual orientation is seen as being outside the mainstream, still find themselves disenfranchised. Taking up a position and aligning with a particular brand of ‘otherness’ can have short-term advantages, but the longer-term implications can be frustrating. On the one hand, there are special funding pots set aside to ensure that artists, who might otherwise be marginalised, get a fair bite of the funding cherry; but once they’ve wandered down that path towards the cash it’s difficult to wander away from the label that’s attached, leaving them pinned like so many exotic butterflies to fulfil quotas and tick boxes. Yet, avoiding the labels
also presents a moral dilemma. As one attendee pointed out, she thought it was important to provide a positive role model, which only her visibility, profile and otherness could do. The Vacuum Cleaner, an art and activism collective of one, resists being categorised, saying that he preferred the labels attached to him – ‘retard’, ‘pillock’ - to the tag ‘disabled’. This symposium went a long way to looking at how to make practical changes to attitudes and the conditions in which artists and audiences of any background, gender, ability or sexual orientation can join the party without being herded into special boxes. I’ll leave the final word to The Human Vacuum Cleaner: “Boxes are for shoes or for moving house”. —CCQ
The Awkward Bastards symposium was held at mac, Birmingham on 12 March 2015 dasharts.org gemmamarmalade.com mattjsmith.com tanyaraabe.co.uk thevacuumcleaner.co.uk
From the Horse/s Mouth Over the past seven years photographic partnership Tina Carr and Annmarie Schöne have been immersed in a project that explores Roma culture in West Wales, the UK and Hungary. With their latest book just out, they believe that shared creative practice has the potential to facilitate real social change. Carr and Schöne’s project, manifest both in exhibitions of their photography, a large video archive oncebirdstv and in a new book, From the Horse/s Mouth: A Roma, Gypsy Traveller Landscape, specifically challenges entrenched attitudes towards the Roma people and intolerance towards difference in general. In Hungary it is estimated that the Roma make up five to eight per cent of the population, representing 500,000 to 800,000 people - by far the largest of Hungary’s thirteen recognised ethnic minorities. They posted the following text on their Once We Were Birds blog in 2009 whilst working in Hungary: Sajokaza has made the Hungarian national headlines this week in an article entitled Nem! Nem! Nem! (No! No! No!) Some of the Roma have been stealing electricity - one man has gone to prison for this heinous crime. The Solyom Telep (settlement) has no gas, only partial electricity, no sewage system and just four standpipes for 1,200 people. The old electricity meters were removed 60 years ago and not replaced, so 200 families have been obtaining electricity illegally and dangerously. The debts are now enormous and in order to prevent more people going to gaol (which is obviously more expensive in the longer term) the national government has agreed to clear the debt provided the local municipality pays 10%. They have refused. The Jaibhim Network, which runs the Dr Ambedkar High School in the village, got up a petition and organised a film festival to raise the 10% to give to the municipality - still the municipality refused. This means that the government money, covering 90% of the debt, cannot be drawn down and there is no way to force the municipality’s hand without a change in the social rules of the whole country! The politics here are crazy and clearly loaded against the Roma. The Roma Community, together with the Jaibhim Network, have formed a women’s committee (with a man who wants to get into politics on it too?!!!) called Helping Hands and they have asked to send a representative to the Municipal Social Forum (which has no power but can make suggestions to the Municipal Government). Guess what? They have been refused. Many of the Roma have been to prison for the most petty of crimes. The latest is for the non-payment of fines imposed for not sending their children to school... and therein hangs another tale ...
The above text is an edited excerpt from oncewewerebirds.blogspot.co.uk republished in From the Horse/s Mouth: A Roma, Gypsy Traveller Landscape, Tina Carr & Annmarie Schöne, 2014 The book is available from hexpress.bigcartel.com europeanprospects.org/tina-carr-annemarie-schöne youtube.com/user/oncebirdstv simply-solar.co.uk
p74&75 Angela B贸di, Saj贸kaza, NE Hungary, Tina Carr and Annemarie Sch枚ne, 2009 p76&77 Roma Cave Dwellers near Eger, NE Hungary, Tina Carr and Annemarie Sch枚ne, 2009
IBT15 Bristol International Festival: Night Songs IBT15: Bristol International Festival offered an intense programme of events and interventions in and around the city. Paul Hurley stepped out of the maelstrom to experience the magic and intimacy of Night Songs. It is a cold, crisp Sunday night in February and I am walking in a quiet, candlelit procession through the grounds of the Tyntesfield Estate, near Bristol. Like many here, I am weary after four days of seeing performances at IBT15: Bristol International Festival, as well as from dancing into the wee, small hours at The Storm festival party last night. Yet, I am feeling simultaneously elevated and transformed by the experience I have just been a part of here: IBTâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Night Songs. On the patio outside this splendid, Victorian Gothic revival house, I witnessed five women (Reckless Sleepers) in evening dress, determinedly sawing the legs off the chairs upon which they were
sitting. Inside, I glimpsed the terrifying and beautiful Tarantella of a dancer possessed (Iona Kewney), hurtling back and forth towards her audience across a once sumptuous, vintage rug. Upstairs in the master bedroom, I watched an artist dreaming, drugged and asleep in the ornately carved Chipperfield bed, and I listened to the discordant harmonies of female voices (directed by Louisa Fairclough) singing the diaries of a deceased sister across the panelled hall. And all this was before I enjoyed a magical and intimate concert by the otherworldly, art pop musician Patrick Wolf, accompanying himself on harp, keyboard and customised pipe organ, in Tyntesfieldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s private chapel.
WHERE A VISION APPEARED OF ST LAWRENCES TEARS TO A ROGATION DAY CONGREGATION PRISONED BY PRAYER IN QUESTION OF TIME AND CHANGE AND WHEN THE GERRY BOMB BURST ON THE ARBORETUM THE ANSWER SPLIT TONGUE WAS SPELLED OUT IN FLAME
After the dust had settled, I caught up with IBT’s Artistic Director and the curator of Night Songs, Helen Cole. She explains that IBT (In Between Time) is an international producing company, which is responsible for, amongst other things, the dynamic, interdisciplinary programme of contemporary art that is Bristol International Festival. The festival has shown a huge breadth of work across live art, dance, theatre, installation and visual art. It has used conventional art venues (like the Arnolfini Gallery and Wickham Theatre), but also public and repurposed spaces - from forests to warehouses, bridges and a Routemaster bus. This year is definitely one of the most ambitious, and Night Songs is, for me, one if its most captivating projects to date. Cole told me about some of the inspiration behind the project. “As a child I was taken to National Trust properties to witness their opulence and imagine what it would have been like to live and work in these places. Night Songs emerged as a response to the very special invitation to enter at night, almost as if the house were sleeping, only to be awakened by our presence.” And there is something very particular about this invitation. The usual rituals of visiting a heritage property shift – no longer looking for the information boards, chatting to our
companions or contemplating what cake we’ll have in the café – and one takes on a different sensitivity. We are aware we are in someone else’s house – previously that of the Gibbs family, and now the house of the National Trust staff and volunteer stewards that manage and look after this splendid place. There is a reverence and a familiarity in the way visitors interact – contemporary art and pop music audiences on our best behaviour, as though visiting our cultural in-laws for the first time. Night Songs is a collaboration between IBT and the National Trust, which has, as Cole explains, “begun to take steps to embrace the works of contemporary artists in their programmes as a way to reach larger, more urban audiences.” It has done this through its Trust New Art programme, bringing the works of artists such as the London Group to National Trust properties. The curation of a pop musician like Patrick Wolf alongside contemporary performance work, like that in Night Songs, is a bold approach from this point of view. “IBT”, Cole tells me, “believes that challenging ideas and artists’ works should always be accessible to large numbers of audiences of all types. Night Songs is a beautiful, sometimes very subtle, intervention
into these incredible and sumptuous, once private, spaces. It aims to slow you down for a moment, to make you look and listen.” I was reminded of Manchester International Festival’s Marina Abramović Presents at the Whitworth Gallery in 2009, a durational, multi-artist event, which began with Abramović herself taking the audience through The Drill. This hour-long physical and mental meditation session aimed to slow the audience down, to bring them into the present and to a heightened state in which they would be most receptive to the performances then presented. Sure, I’d felt a bit silly spending ten minutes slowly sipping a glass of water, or staring unblinking into the eyes of the stranger sitting next to me, but it worked. And something similar is at work in Night Songs. I was struck by the different heightened modes of attendance I was experiencing - feeling from one moment to the next like I was in a museum, a gallery, a gig, a home, a wedding, a performance or a private party – and how seamlessly they seemed to be invited. In the coming weeks, Night Songs will tour to other National Trust properties across the country: Barrington Court in Somerset, Osterley Park in Middlesex, and Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire. “From Tudor mansion to Georgian party palace,” Cole enthuses, “the work will maintain all of these modes. No matter what the spaces are like in each house, Night Songs will carry the same resonances - the magical nature of the experience; the sense of the immense privilege of this invitation; the echoes of the past and the celebration of our eventual access; and our individual ability to make change.” For this is a place of change, and a time of change, too. As well as historic shifts in economic and class structures, which echo around a place like this, we are also aware of broader cycles of change occurring individually and globally. Bristol, home of IBT, is 2015 European Green Capital, and themes around environmental responsibility were subtly and strongly present throughout the festival. As part of Night Songs, Patrick Wolf undertook a residency at Tyntesfield, during which he was commissioned to write a new song. “Patrick was given unprecedented access to the diaries and possessions of the previous owners. He walked its rooms and corridors and was able to go into spaces usually closed off to the public,” Cole tells me. Wolf’s new work for IBT weaves together reminisced and imagined stories of Tyntesfield’s past, against a backdrop of change – of history, of seasons, of lifetimes, of worlds.
And while Night Songs is a gentle, smooth and wholly pleasurable evening’s journey, it is also full of dynamism and dare. It shows a huge amount of risk and faith from all those involved: from the National Trust, giving access to its properties; to the artists, presenting their work in untested contexts; to the audiences, boarding an IBT coach journey into the unknown. Night Songs shows that presenting contemporary art in heritage settings can be a gift for artists, producers and audiences alike. Experimental and challenging performance work employs particular tools to engage audiences, and taking them out of the safety and neutrality of the white cube awakens us to new ways of seeing, and of being. With a curatorial touch, Night Songs serves such work adroitly, bringing wonder and ease to encounters that expand and explode our appreciation - appreciation not just of the artwork, but also of the property, its contents, its custodians and our fellow visitors. IBT proves that it can be as bold and ambitious in the ways that it works, as in the work that it presents. And this, of course, is when arts festivals get really exciting. Cole talks enigmatically about plans for, “another incredible concert, bringing together musicians with artists in unusual locations, for IBT’s Bristol International Festival in 2017”. More on that she won’t reveal, but I for one can’t wait to find out. —CCQ
Lyrics from Sermon of Soil by Patrick Wolf. Song commissioned by In Between Time and National Trust, Trust New Art, as part of Night Songs at Tyntesfield House
p78 Night Songs at Barrington Court, Eloise Fornieles, 2015, Courtesy of In Between Time / National Trust Photo: Paul Blakemore p79 Night Songs at Osterley Park, Patrick Wolf, 2015 Courtesy of In Between Time / National Trust Photo: Paul Blakemore p80&81 Night Songs at Tyntesfield, Knights of the Invisible, 2015 Courtesy of In Between Time / National Trust Photo: Paul Blakemore
IBT15 Bristol International Festival: (M)imosa and Nightwalks As part of their Festival Writers Programme, IBT15 invited emerging writers to apply to be embedded in this most experimental of festivals. Here Bob Gelsthorpe takes on two very different performances, tries to find out what’s real and what’s fake, and longs for a selfie with a duck. (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning in the Judson Church (M) “Sometimes you’ve got to know when to take out the real shit and when to take the fake shit” But when the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ blend so seamlessly, you can’t help but revel in the multiverse of the show and let everything else go to hell. Trajal Harrell and collaborators (Cecilia Bengolea, Francois Chaignaud and Monteiro Freitas) bring a terrifying, intoxicating and fluid series of interconnected ‘looks’ that bewilder from the offset, getting all premonitions of contemporary theatre out of the way, allowing you to revel in its movements, narratives and, eventually, dominance. Some of the first looks are fairly straightforward (albeit with ridiculously complex scores of choreography and a mash-up of singing styles) but as soon as the structure is noticed, it’s destroyed. The entire auditorium becomes the stage for peripheral activity, with the whole arena working as both set and social studio in some respects. Thinking back, it was these tensions that formed such an integral part of the show. They entice a certain level of empathy that bonds the audience with the performers (even a short act of helping one of the performers with their hair creates that connection). Four performers occupy the stage at any given time, dressed in and out of exquisite clothing, irregularly morphing throughout the performance. While one or two may be performing, the others are never completely off stage; they hang around, floating about each other’s ideas, reacting, drawing out and
occasionally chiming in; it’s casual. But the construct of the social studio in (m)imosa is one that, as in any studio, allows the experiment to fail, to put a seemingly flawless performance at risk and to open up a more complex reading of this contemporary show. In the follies that follow, as technical difficulties arise, the question of real shit and fake shit comes up again. At this point it becomes an individual difficulty if the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ bothers you so much – the crux of this performance not being what is on which spectrum of reality (or not) but on how much you accept, through an invitation into a relationship, the proposal of the piece. The role of the individual performer’s narrative plays a vital part in the show. We learn, laugh and love the stories that are told, unified under a constant battling for “Who is the real Mimosa?” But perhaps Mimosa is a lateral personality? These questions develop throughout the tales of Purple, the sequences of chaotic dance and the laughter from a certain absurdity, which is a hallmark of Trajal Harrell’s work. The voguing and use of the Diva create a platform for the various performance personae to state their case. Having evoked a time period, they can challenge the notions of sexual, racial or political stereotypes so prevalent in the 1960s. There’s a lot to be said about the schematics of the performance, its ability to very casually interact with the audience in active and passive ways. From the multiple costume changes to some texting from an unseen performer, these devices, with a satirical performance of Kate Bush, pound the crowd into total submission.
We are told to write this down: “When you go buy real shit, you need to have real shit.” Which can translate to many things, but makes it clear you should not fuck with anyone’s Gucci bag. Nightwalks with Teenagers In criticism it is said that the most honest response is that of a child. In the case of Nightwalks with Teenagers by Mammalian Diving Reflex, we are literally in their hands – a malleable audience awaiting the commands of about a dozen adolescents. One of the saddest things about adulthood (and, in particular, British adulthood) is our self-conscious aversion to awkwardness. Thankfully, in this production by Canadian artist duo, Mammalian Diving Reflex, that has been successfully shot to shit. We are led into the centre and hyped up by a mosh pit rush of teenagers. They quickly lead us outside and engage us (an audience of about 60) in some playground games in the guise of team-building exercises. We are told to talk to strangers (I feel a conflict with my upbringing). We begin holding hands and are led out into the streets of Knowle West at about 8.30 at night. These teenagers have such confidence, but this is not the first time Mammalian Diving Reflex have shown the power of what a naïve spirit and a healthy amount of audacity can do to an art-festival-fatigued audience. In previous projects they have led a group of children to critique restaurants in Birmingham, deciding on their own terms what constitutes a good dining experience. In deference to this approach, I will review the evening on my own terms:
1. Not enough time on the monkey bars I’m sorry guys, although there was a good chunk of time on the walk spent in the playground, I feel that being asked to do anything after introducing monkey bars into the situation is risky. 2. You gotta blast that music IBT give the kids bigger speakers. I can’t dance to Mark Ronson from a portable speaker attached to an iPhone, no matter how beautiful the view from the hill overlooking Bristol that you’ve led us to. 3. Know your Audience Although, when racing to the park, the last one being a rotten egg is not something I
would wish on anyone. Looking at the people around me, maybe something like, “Last one to the park produces pastiched and dull pieces” would work. They’d be like shit off a shovel at that challenge. 4. I wanted a selfie with the duck, #nightwalks At one point I thought we were playing knocka-door-run, although with about 80 people that’s kind of tricky. When I discovered that a lovely resident of Knowle West was proudly showing us the duck, I was elated. Ceremoniously passed amongst a few teenagers, I seriously wanted a turn and, in particular, to take a selfie with the local celebrity.
5. I want to know where you all are in ten years. Because this was one of the most captivating projects and it made me recall my teenage days with such fondness that my heart burst out of my chest. It made me recall naivety with dewy eyes and remember experiencing something for the first time, which was what I completely and totally experienced tonight. —CCQ
Bristol International Festival ran from 12 -15 February 2015 at various venues around Bristol ibt15.co.uk
p83 Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning, Trajal Harrell, at the Judson Church, Photo: Miana Jun
he street you never d old tower isused and bo consumer ers lurk the rt at the arth and ll-singing e bingo and ts the disco walls the rage that e’s defence far as The street you oozing from ra-scented wi no mercy that don’t loating into re cash can live in the ken hearted s the heart ut of bounds ors by train and classy eping you in on you even r sometimes e or want to IS CRITICAL’ ore entering invited very he chemist s her face s she tells
Higher Street the assistant who’s heard it all before her life story the f-word slips and tumbles to the floor fourteen times before she leaves and shouts down the street ‘And my sister’s a fucking cunt too she wears red shoes and no knickers’ how the visitors love the live opera show never disappointed always a scene to tell a tale one window display says it all with its adult mannequin in a pushchair welcome to the city of tears you’re either gonna get shat on or the rain will make you want to cry by the time you reach Chompers and walk past the squally lane which OMG literally whistles ‘Get a job’ the initiation point is over you have made the half way mark we’ve all been there times when the shite hits the fan brain fry and the dole office is the ultimate slap in your face ‘Come in we offer The Call Centre’ cue an Edvard Munch scream the reduced counter becomes your lows and highs there is hope the drillers drill and the builders build ‘It ain’t all that bad luv’ it’s the ti-ti-ti of the traffic lights and the shout ‘I beat him up to a pulp lovely to see you I am gonna kick his head in’ by the Shit-U-Self shop ‘Fancy buying a his-and-hers tracky in neon pink half price you know I luvs u’ all look down walking this street avoiding excrement dog or human not seeing the man with his tiny flute sticking out of his suit the pavements are tattooed with vomit splashes the church cries ‘Hallelujah praise the Lord’ God save you from yourself everyone shouts no one talks its like the seagulls ow-ow-ow eat each other and the humans maim each other with words but there is HOPE use the artist take their ideas and pay ‘um with coppers make this a happy place not just mask the problem in shiny new social towers for they truly are the new asylums care in the community keep ‘um together better the devil you know decay smeared on walls with wine and muck and the Po neeeeeno and the ambulance wahhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaa wah wah wah and all is rosy in Dylan’s land Jack and Jill been dancing down the Windy Street cosy now they sleeps tidy with chips and gravy and Monday morning the weather says rain with one sunny spell if you’re lucky
Pain and pleasure living breathing tasting the street leaves you with a nervous twitch a bendy neck you never know who is behind you buildings grimy new and old tower over narrow very narrow this street vacant disused and misused humankind leaving their history in limbo consumer society and its trinkets lay abandoned the lurkers lurk the shirkers shirk ducking and diving let’s start at the Theatre triffids have seeped through the earth and intertwined their stems with the brickwork all-singing all-dancing urban jungle ah the days of Charlie bingo and music echoing amongst the towered Dai Fatty flats the disco mirror ball still shines within its crumbling walls the army of morbid beautiful flowers guard with a rage that whips and strangles the air each triffid nature’s defence against the bulldozers spitting its venom as far as The Catalogue Shop ghostly corpses glide down the street you could call it the river of blood copper tones oozing from victims who dare to enter the stench of Zoflora-scented ammonia wafts up nostril calling Ralph and Huwi no mercy all are left pale a grey tinge to skin eyes that don’t blink and they gurn with loose limbs helpless floating into the pit of mush-mash have you got any fags spare cash can you spare a penny for my child night falls they live in the cellar of the Theatre the princess of the broken hearted they who enter may never be the same again it’s the heart beat of Higher Street a distant do not touch out of bounds building that breathes silent but deadly visitors by train can only leave the dreamy wedding shop kebabs and classy hairdressers at certain times ‘tis lockdown keeping you in your place so to speak Big Brother has his eye on you even the motorway in and out is fifty miles an hour sometimes thirty just in case you have dreams of road rage or want to smile leaving the pretty shitty city ‘AMBITION IS CRITICAL’ a reminder ‘Presso Coffee the best in town before entering Last Ramblas if the face don’t fit you’re not invited very local you see the lady buyz her lipstick at the chemist cheapest brand Constance Carroll glides across her face in-between her streaky yellow grey teeth and as she tells
Higher Street: a semi-fictitious response to Tales from the Bunker, a view of the City from the precipice of the High Street, the Glitterationist International Words: Nazma Ali, Editor: Mark Stephenson, Design and layout: Mark Stephenson/Nazma Ali All elements, copyright 2014, the Glitterationist International, all rights reserved
the assistant w f-word slips and she leaves and fucking cunt to the visitors l always a scene all with its ad city of tears y will make you and walk past th ‘Get a job’ the half way mark hits the fan br slap in your fac Edvard Munch sc and highs there build ‘It ain’t traffic light lovely to see Shit-U-Self sh neon pink hal walking this s seeing the man w the pavements a cries ‘Halle yourself everyon ow-ow-ow eat eac words but there pay ‘um with co the problem in the new asylum better the devi and muck wahhhhhhhhhha Dylan’s land Street cosy now Monday morning
High Rise Peter Bobby’s new book brings together a substantial and impressive body of work. Emma Geliot finds that he creates a new aesthetic for the corporate reach-for-the-sky towers that dominate our cityscapes, but offer nothing but shadow. Once tall buildings were merely a way of maximising limited space. The Dutch thought tall along the canal fronts, the Americans carried it on, but added some Deco chutzpah and detail. Now glazed monsters trying to graze the clouds shade our urban centres; making a statement and saying nothing. Bobby’s photographs and videos for High Rise – which began as an exhibition and took on a performative element – in book form tell a story, and it’s an unsettling one. Outside we see the illuminated tips of buildings, glowing in the night like UFOs (Zenith series) – all sense of scale is lost as they hover or rise from the base of the frame and the mind takes a moment or two to root them back to reality; we never see
them top to toe. Inside, the interiors are entirely devoid of personality, of any kind of recent human presence. The suite of High Rise images show architecture/design for productivity or purpose – chairs either just a bit hard to focus the mind and speed up meetings, or more padded for those long negotiations where something catered will be served up on the polished and bland boardroom table. Plants are chosen from a catalogue and serviced like the lifts, the stationery cupboards, the hardware – chosen for size, shape, statement, but certainly not botanical interest – there’ll be no sudden, unexpected flowerings in these spaces. It’s easy to describe Bobby’s photographic practice as architectural,
and he has certainly explored architecture thematically over the years, but the work in High Rise is weirdly anthropological, despite the lack of human presence. For all their glass and shininess, these buildings are impermeable – the sheer glass fronts reflect back the gaze (or occasionally refract the sun and melt passersby, although this happens rarely). Bobby doesn’t seem interested in the basementto-roof narrative thrust of the building. Instead, he seeks to create an alternative aesthetic out of the impersonality of its design. The images and videos are carefully composed, well lit and with muted colours that make the red curtain in his video, Curtain, even more dramatic. That video, projected on to a National Theatre tower, looming above the South Bank, is a gesture of grandeur, a moment of unintentional (for its owners) theatricality as it sweeps open and then closes, with the slow reveal of the landscape below and far beyond the triple-glazed silence inside. The book adds another dimension to an exhibition that has toured to a variety of venues and been seen in some contrasting contexts – from the time-battered, industrial Tramshed in Cardiff, as part of Diffusion festival, to the Architecture Centre, Bristol, the National Theatre in London and Oxford Brookes University. These contexts can be seen in the installation shots included in the publication. Each setting gives the work new meaning, but the book brings together those meanings and responses, with essays by Kim Dovey, Robin Wilson and Liam Devlin, and with an introduction by Ffotogallery director David Drake. Along with the distinct photographic bodies of work – Zenith and High Rise – the book also includes stills from the surprisingly theatrical videos Curtain, Blind and Divide. Here, in Bobby’s latest book (see also Reception), art meets architecture and corporate blandness is rendered strangely compelling and dramatic. —CCQ
High Rise is published by Ffotogallery and can be purchased from Cornerhouse for £20 cornerhouse.org peterbobby.com
p86 High-rise (23rd, Bar), Peter Bobby, 120cm x 80cm p87 (from top) Zenith I, Peter Bobby, 2009-13, 470 x 640mm Zenith IX, Peter Bobby, 2009-13, 470 x 640mm Zenith XVII, Peter Bobby, 2009-13, 470 x 640mm p88 High-rise (31st, Conference Room), Peter Bobby, 120cm x 80cm p89 High-rise (50th, Gentlemans Club), Peter Bobby, 2007-11, 120cm x 80cm
The Pram in the Hall Angharad Pearce Jones’ installation at Oriel Myrddin is a witty and poignant riposte to an old adage. Ceri Jones finds that domesticity is no barrier to creativity. The well-worn phrase, ‘the pram in the hall’, conjures up many an image and sensibility. It’s emotive and evocative and, somehow, seems to have pushed its way into our vernacular with a sense of flippancy. I don’t know why I was quite so taken aback then, walking into Angharad Pearce Jones’ so-titled exhibition at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, to see a huge pram in a big hallway. It was, perhaps, the literal interpretation that surprised me, but then I was so delighted by the larger-than-life manifestation. It triggered an indulgent chuckle to be faced with the unreachable handle of a giant pushchair, augmented in every sense and immovable. What a wry contradiction. Pearce Jones has fabricated an enormous steel stroller. The joints, wheels, gadgets and design are those of any fold-up, flip-away, kit-form pushchair in contemporary hallways and high streets. This one, though, is not for use, will not suffer wear and tear, will never be outgrown. Its well-crafted form supports half a tonne of waste steel; another half a tonne surrounds the structure, as if tipped from its embrace. The pram is elegantly framed by 18 steel columns, coated in the utilitarian yellow of hard hats and double-yellow lines: beware! The columns at once protect, enclose and stage this pushchair in its industrial and domestic detritus. Pearce Jones doesn’t straddle the two worlds of industry and domesticity; her world encompasses both simultaneously, plus many other environments too. What I find infuriating about Cyril Connolly’s quote, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway”, is its divisive tone and
effect. Is it an excuse for unattained literary ambition or a foil to that ever-elusive creative fulfillment experienced by so many? There’s an argument to the contrary that would see creativity flourishing, with the pram in the hallway as the catalyst. Pearce Jones’ impressive sculpture is absolutely autobiographical. It was sparked by a personal reaction to a phrase often repeated to her as an artist and mother, one that has made her question her own practice: ‘Am I making lesser work because I am a mother?’ The piece was made in difficult circumstances, with unforeseen domestic demands utterly overwhelming the limited time, physical capabilities and creative energy at her disposal. It was these, sometimes torturous, circumstances that propelled the work, that give it vitality, that instill a profound sense of personal fortitude. Pearce Jones’ Pram in the Hall is testament to a precision of skill and clarity of insight. It is an unwavering response that unequivocally states, ‘I am making prodigious work because of being who I am.’ Pearce Jones’ work is honest, robust and stirring; it is made with consideration, but not self-consciously. Nuts, bolts and hardware have always excited Pearce Jones; she is enthused by industrial spaces and working interiors. She has known the business and the personality of Dyfed Steels for years; and her admiration for the structural aesthetic of its plant, and her appreciation of the human scale of its workings, each have a bearing on The Pram in the Hall. The heaps of waste steel form an otherworldly landscape about the giant pushchair. Familiar household objects are
caught stranded in its grasp: a child’s shoe; a doll; a mobile phone; a rugby ball; everyday accessories discarded in this wasteland. Peer at them for too long and they acquire a disquieting presence, one that challenges their apparent abandonment. Pearce Jones takes the nuts and bolts of daily lives and wonders at their mechanics. Prams in halls come and go. Toys and shoes come and go. Exhibitions that have been sweated over come and go. The impact of all of them perpetuates. Our environment is ever shifting according to our actions; our lives are naturally a culmination of our experiences and our output is bound to evolve. We won’t all tackle those experiences with such dynamic results as Pearce Jones, but that’s all right, because her immovable pushchair raises a smile. And we know that there will always be a pram in someone’s hallway. Thank goodness. —CCQ
The Pram in the Hall was at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Carmarthen, 7 March - 25 April 2015. A new publication of works by Angharad Pearce Jones will be published in April 2015. angharadpearcejones.com orielmyrddingallery.co.uk fieldworking.co.uk
p91 The Pram in the Hall // Y Pram yn y Cyntedd, Angharad Pearce Jones, 2015 Copyright: Angharad Pearce Jones Photo: Betina Skovbro (skovbro.com)
Art School Boyfriend Far from friends, and more concerned with painting than a social life, Joan Jones was an outsider embarking on an art school education; but then everything changed. The problems really started after enrollment. My age was one thing; at 24, I wasn’t a school leaver, but nor was I exactly a mature student. Plus, I was actually talented. The latter, I would come to learn, would especially mark me out as a freak amongst the home-counties chancers. Also, there were my spiritual beliefs to be considered. Not so hip in 2006. So, I was starting out from scratch; kind of what I had planned by disappearing from home, like I did, to pursue a formal education. I wanted everything to be simple. And then I met him. And then I started writing poetry. Bowlcut hairdo -- fucking-my-head trainers he makes fun of my pentagram necklace. You built me a den with your mother’s bed sheets hiding there, I wonder which one of your stoner stink shirts I will steal when you leave. I was painting. He was in the time-based department: live performance, video, installation and sonic art. The men did things like spill goldfish out of their bowls on stage to illustrate the human condition, and the women would freeze their menstrual blood in ice cube trays. He said my work was too traditional and bourgeois. The first time we met was in the smokers’ quadrangle. He needed a Rizla. Bizarrely, I think he found the fact that I was ever-so-slightly older exotic. He was 19 at the time. His precociousness belied this. Within the first ten minutes of our conversation, he told me he’d already been kicked out of another art school for dealing drugs. This was his second chance. I told him I did not find this impressive. Also, there was the class difference and the fact that I was native Welsh. He was from Brighton and raised by extremely liberal parents. His mother had burnt her bra, he mentioned early on, again trying hard to impress and noting my understated hippie/beatnik get-up. I was kind of flattered that he thought he was being flattering. Actually, I was desperate and was glad anyone was paying me any attention at all. For our first date you made watercress soup. I bask in this Steiner school glamour, like a screen-printed sea cow. At the lo-fi vegan bake sale benefit show you ask me what my painting is about.
my painting. He said just take another hit of this and it would definitely improve my work. I took the hit. The sex was ok. The one thing I couldn’t stand was his constant entreaty to come and ‘look at my work.’ One piece was called Art Student Jeans. The pseudo-irony of this assemblage could not be underplayed. A single pair of clichéd baggy blue jeans, hanging alone on a rail, slashed and paint-drizzled, accompanied by a covertly sampled sound element of the painting tutors critiquing students’ work. “I really admire the grace of that line, Suzy,” and, “Your use of cross-hatching here, Damian, is quite exquisite.” I got the joke. Eight rum-soaked life models obsessively touch their hair, as I explain: Psychic Dis-ease. You creep into my room at night to kiss the pages of my sketchbook. “You have no idea what you do to me.” I should probably buy a lock. One thing is a constant in my life: whatever relationships I make are predestined not to last. One night, recumbent on his boy-smelling bed in a haze of bong smoke he recites from Gertrude Stein’s Blood on the Dining Room Floor: “It is very strange how everybody occupies your time, very strange and very difficult and very hard and very much as it is.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. The final straw was when he tried to include me in a second year performance happening he was organising. Whilst various wreckheads cavorted in papier mâché costumes and he parped away on a homemade bellows, I was to circle the space naked, daubing the walls with a paintbrush protruding from my twat. I knew enough about performance history by then to point out that this had all been done before. We then decided we were creatively incompatible, and it was time to call it a day. Shortly after, he was kicked off his course for drug-dealing on campus (again) and banned from returning. This, at the time, gained me quite a bit of kudos by association amongst the student body. I was relieved to be single again, and to carry on painting. I stopped writing poetry. You smile down, wonk-toothed, pleading me, roll us a doob, roll down your tights, roll across the carpet, avoid that patch of sick, and turn down the lights. “I love you, my darling, like a shit that doesn’t stick.”
I am not romantically inclined by nature, but for him I tried my best to be. I am not predisposed to illegal stimulants, but feigned enjoyment of the bong hits and bumps of MDMA. To him his lifestyle represented the height of bohemian sophistication and stickingit-to-the-man. Whatever. I told him I just wanted to concentrate on
p93 Joan and the Dogs, Ric Bower, 2015
…Dear Olivia Craig Wood’s current witty and thoughtful exhibition at Oriel Davies takes a found message in a bottle as the starting point for a show that looks at communication, a shifting world, nationalism, globalisation and what dogs do when the humans are away. Through sculptural installation, objects, painting, drawing and video, Wood offers up maps – crushed, as power shifts and ideas evolve, or painted, showing a shifting/drowning warmed-up world; The Communist Manifesto and other classic 94 texts rendered into decorative necklaces; partial bodies and coffee-stained drawings.
â&#x20AC;ŚDear Olivia is at Oriel Davies until 13 May 2015 orieldavies.org Read our Q & A with Craig Wood online at ccqmagazine.com
Swyddfa Ewrop Greadigol y Deyrnas Unedig
Cyllid a chyfleoedd i’r sectorau diwylliannol, creadigol a chlyweledol
Funding and opportunities for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors www.creativeeuropeuk.eu #creativeeurope @CEDUK_Culture
Arddangosfa ‘I see Europe’, Fotosommer, Stuttgart 2013. Rhan o brosiect ‘European Prospects’ wedi ei ledio gan Ffotogallery (Cymru) drwy gronfa Ewropeaidd ‘Diwylliant 2007-13’.
‘I see Europe’, exhibition at Fotosommer, Stuttgart 2013. Part of ‘European Prospects’ funded by the EU Culture Programme 2007-13 96 and led by Ffotogallery (Wales).
ESPY Photography Award 2015
plus solo exhibition
Judges: Helen Sear & Peter Finnemore ESPY encourages traditional photography along with contemporary and experimental techniques. Submission fee £15: Each artist needs to submit a series of five images
Deadline for submission: 11th September 2015 Exhibition: 20th Nov - 19th Dec at elysiumgallery, Swansea Visit www.espyphotoaward.com to download an application form
Become part of elysiumstudios’ growing community of artists What to send us: > Name, Address, Postcode, Phone number, Email address > Nature of your work practice (paint, print, film, digital, sculpture, photography, performance, other) > Up to 8 jpeg images of your work > Studio requirements (Ground floor, natural light, ventilation, wi-fi access, other) > Do you consider yourself to be disabled? (if yes please specify studio access requirements) Please email us about rates, prices and availability: email@example.com
ELYSIUM GALLERY AND STUDIOS
16 COLLEGE STREET | SWANSEA | SA1 5BH
ELYSIUM GALLERY / ORIEL ELYSIUM WWW.ELYSIUMGALLERY.COM | INFO@ELYSIUMGALLERY.COM 16 COLLEGE STREET | SWANSEA | SA1 5BH
WWW.ELYSIUMGALLERY.COM | INFO@ELYSIUMGALLERY.COM ELYSIUM ART LTD. LIMITED BY GUARANTEE IN ENGLAND AND WALES, REGISTRATION NUMBER 06278606 ELYSIUM ART LTD. LIMITED BY GUARANTEE IN ENGLAND AND WALES. REGISTRATION NUMBER 06278606
Art work will be available from vending machines in Wrexham town centre for £1 each. Bydd y gwaith celf ar gael o beiriannau gwerthu yng nghanol tref Wrecsam am £1 yr un. Don Braisby, Stephanie Brown, Jess Bugler, Ruth Cullis, Dani Danaher, Gill Ellison, Janet Farahar, Kirsty Gaughan, Chloe Gibb, Rebecca F. Hardy, Robert Hodge, Rebecca Key, Carole King, Peter Lloyd, Danny McBride, Desdemona McCannon, Neat Sleeper, Keith Roberts, Myra Ryan, Carmen White & Heather Wilson
ORIEL WRECSAM IS MOVING YN SYMUD COME WITH US! DEWCH GYDA NI!
ORIEL WRECSAM 01978 292093 @orielwrecsam @orielwresidency
11 CHESTER STREET, WREXHAM LL13 8BE 11 STRYD CAER, WRECSAM LL13 8BE
firstname.lastname@example.org www.wrexham.gov.uk/arts /OrielWrecsam
RichaRd Woods iNcLosURE acTs Exhibition / Arddangosfa: 10.04.15â&#x20AC;&#x201D;14.06.15
Chapter Market Road, Cardiff CF5 1QE, UK Heol y Farchnad, Caerdydd CF5 1QE, UK 029 2030 4400 www.chapter.org /chaptergallery