Sunday, 27 November 2011

Turner Prize and Side Gallery

Last weekend I joined some colleagues from the OCA in Gateshead/Newcastle for a visit to the Turner prize exhibit at the Baltic.  Jim Lloyd, who organised the visit has done a write up here Jim's OCA Drawing 1 Blog: Turner Prize so I shall try not to duplicate too much of what he has said.

The opportunity to mix with a small number of people from other disciplines was one I’m glad I didn’t miss – there was plenty to talk about all day (I know – shutting me up is the trick – sorry guys) and even then I think I only really scratched the surface of the opportunities an enhanced understanding other media might bring to my practise.

As Jim noted the early start was definitely a good idea because even though we had a decent chat over coffee as we all arrived we still managed to miss the queue and the crowds.

Turner prize exhibits
Martin Boyce – not sure what to make of this. The litter bin and wind blown ‘leaves’ was an interesting execution but I wasn’t quite sure of it’s purpose or message, similarly the ‘table’ which reminded me of an old school desk with its oddly angular graffiti. The display was brought to life for me by a small child , who looking at a similar bunch of angular letters stuck to a board on the wall said: ‘Mummy, those letters look so sad’. And they did. Perhaps sometimes we need to set aside the intellectual baggage we bring to these events and just let our emotion do the work. Whoever she was – I’m grateful to her.

Hilary Lloyd – I thought this exhibit was very cold, consisting as it did of projector boxes and TV screens in a brightly lit white room. We were assured by the attendant that the almost obsessive attention to neatness in the cabling was an integral part of the work which led me to the thought that the message was easily subverted by simply walking behind the TV screens and viewing them from the wrong side, or using the projector beams to cast shadow puppets (one I tried, one I didn’t) We did observe that the adults were strangely reluctant to break the beams – very few crossed the imaginary line which linked the projectors. Obviously the same was not true of the kids – which leads me to wonder if the aim was not to get us to question our relationship with art. In some ways I wish I’d made the rabbit shadow with my fingers – she might even have approved if we’re to believe this bit of blurb: “Foregrounding the apparatus of viewing and choreographing our physical relationship with the work, she proposes a rethinking of the ways in which we engage with the moving image”

Karla Black – this was the standout exhibit for me. The main work looked like the results of a primary school craft session after the kids had left but before the teachers had cleared up only 100 times larger. At the far end of the room was a huge mound of paper (you could walk under it – it was not solid) which flowed down like left-over papier mache to an area full of paint powder, paint bombs , small coloured blocks, cellophane etc. At the risk of a rather trivial comparison, in Ratatouille they win over the cynical old restaurant critic by serving him a simple ratatouille that takes him back to his days as a child – and this had a similar effect on me. I didn’t want to stand and look at it, I wanted to be in there turning it into a papier mache dinosaur or something. From Jim’s notes I’m perhaps glad that I didn’t go to her talk – this hit me at the emotional level and it would have been a shame to spoil it.

George Shaw – perhaps the most disappointing exhibit for me. Not George’s fault I hasten to add – I saw ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’ back in February and was mightily impressed so I brought rather high expectations with me – perhaps too high. The much smaller number of paintings and wider spacing reduced their impact, and the content was not something I found particularly easy to identify with.

Overall my money would go on Karla Black – so that’s presumably ruined her chances :0)

Baltic visit (i)

Side Gallery

Three of us – myself, Michael and Sarah – didn’t attend the artists talk, preferring instead to make the short walk to the Side Gallery across the river which was showing two exhibitions, one of John Heartfield posters/artwork and one of August Sander photos.

The gallery itself is quite small and intimate almost to the point that it feels like viewing the images at home. Heartfield was downstairs. I was not previously familiar with his very striking work which uses elements of photomontage and design to put across fairly blunt political messages. Given the anti-Nazi tone of much of the material on display it is no surprise that he was banned for a considerable period in Germany before and during WWII. Technically I think much of the work must have been cutting edge, and is still worth looking at today – even if it would now be easier to achieve.Some of the anti-war and anti-racist rhetoric had a surprisingly modern feel but some of the messages were simply too unsubtle – I suspect that is my modern sensibility kicking in.

Side Gallery - Baltic Visit (ii)

Upstairs was an exhibit of August Sander prints – which is what the two photographers amongst us had come to see. I was surprised how small they were, but as Michael observed they were probably contact prints from a 4x5 plate or similar. Much of the writing about Sander talks about his attempts at objectivity and categorising, but I saw photos that had a genuine sympathy for their subject. Yes, they were formally posed – particularly the shot of the artisan and peasant classes – but I sensed a genuine love of people coming from the shots. It would be possible to read quite a lot into the poses and dress – the bohemians in the shots tended to prefer angled poses in relaxed clothing and appeared unconcerned by the camera. The poorer people on the other hand, had clearly gone to some trouble to find their Sunday best and very often looked straight into the camera – which must have been a weird and wonderful piece of kit for some of them.

Our visit was over all too quickly – and I wont get a second chance to go and see the Sanders – which is a shame – so I’m glad I took this opportunity.

The Side has recently had much of its funding withdrawn. On the basis of the evidence I saw it is worth supporting, so my plea would be – get yourself along there and make sure you put something in the donation box.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ben Lewis - Gursky World on Vimeo

In the light of all the recent interest in the sale of Gursky's 'Rhein' this is an interesting overview. The presenter is a little too in love with the subject for it to be neutral, but it's no less intersting or informative for that.

Ben Lewis - Gursky World on Vimeo:

'via Blog this'

Monday, 14 November 2011

Modernism and Post-modernism: A bit of background reading


Modernism: A Very Short Introduction – Christopher Butler

Not sure what to make of this book. I think I came away with a few of the basic ideas behind modernism – use of modern techniques, a move away from simple representation, belief that art is a valid tool for explaining the world, attempts to rationalise /simplify art to reach basic truths etc etc, but I can’t help the feeling it was made vastly more complicated than necessary.

If I can write a press release that explains who,what,where,when,why and perhaps even how in around 30 words I see little reason to scatter a book with sentences in excess of 100 words long and full of subordinate clauses and jargon.  In a fully fledged text book you might (just) find this acceptable – but a short introduction? Perhaps I should be unsurprised in a book on modernism, which also seems to be associated with highbrow – raising art above the masses, discussing its meaning in complex terms and so on.

I understand that Modernism probably reached its apex in literature, but for a photography student the very heavy slanted to literature rather than the visual arts is a bit of an issue – and not having read any Joyce or Sartre or Proust this didn’t make it easier to follow. I certainly didn’t make me want to read any of this stuff, although it did pique my interest in Schoenberg and his 12-tone musical technique. Back to photography and I think I can extract from it why Ansel Adams, for example, could be regarded as a modernist, with his emphasis on photographic purity and the use of faultless photographic technique to provide insight. On the other hand, the book makes only a fairly brief reference to Stieglitz who was instrumental in moving photography away from pictorialism  - little of which I could gather from this read.

So – all in all a little disappointing. I don’t mind having to work at a book to understand the principles it is espousing or explaining, and I did manage to extract what I feel is the essence of modernism. That said I do object to the erection of barriers to understanding through the use of unhelpfully highbrow language in an introductory text, and couldn’t help feeling that at times the author was more concerned with maintaining the supposed intellectual exclusivity of modernism, rather than shedding light on its manifesto.

I’m reading a similar introduction to post–modernism next – it’ll be interesting to see if the writing style is noticeably different.

Discover Postmodernism - Glen Ward: Hodder: 2011

This is an altogether more accessible book - the language is simpler, the explanations clearer  - and, in truth I understand modernism better as a result of reading this book. In fairness to the other book some of this may be down to the very flexibility of the idea of post-modernism. Although it is generally concerned with some key themes - such as the lack of distinction between high and low culture, and the tendency to borrow from other works, post-modernism seems to vary depending on the art form, which means the book too is meandering and varied, all of which keeps it an interesting read. This is augmented by being written , at times in a rather funky style - 'Welcome to Planet Baudrillard' - which by it's very nature encourages to stick with the more difficult patches.

Do I understand modernism or post-modernism after reading these books? In truth  - no. But, I do at least have some knowledge of the drivers behind both, and a chance of making more intelligent comment in the occasional debate on the OCA forums :0)