‘TARMAC’ Emerging Artists group show at Lewisham Art House, London

During the making of ‘memeltscren.mov’ I was thinking about other ways in which I could manifest the immaterial aspects of digital technology into physicality. This resulted in two pieces that were shown in the group show ‘TARMAC’ at Lewisham Art House, London. Both these works were developed alongside the writing of my dissertation titled; ‘The Internet: An online utopia or an extension of a dystopian world?’ so are therefore very focused on the ways in which we navigate this new virtual landscape.

Last year I visited the White Chapel Gallery’s exhibition ‘Electronic Super Highway’, which was heavily influenced by the ideas and work of Nam June Paik. Paik’s vision of the Internet in the 70’s as a ‘spring board for new and surprising endeavours’ that would ‘enrich the quality of life itself’ is something I have found highly problematic. Along with many other thinkers during the period before the public release of the Internet, Paik heralded the Internet as a virtual saviour for us all. I believe that this point of view has allowed us to produce and consume the developing digital technologies with little moral consideration or ethical hesitation. I believe that the Internet is currently a utopia for the ego, allowing us to indulge in our own desires like never before. This obsession of the self and obtaining untapped emotional pleasure has, and will continue to, butcher our ties with our physical surroundings, turning us into staring, thumb swiping, commercially mouldable lumps of flesh.

‘INTERNET SEARCH HISTORY’ was an attempt to physically address online indulgence. Firstly, I was asked by the group I was exhibiting with to do a text piece for the entrance for the gallery after the work that was shown at ‘No Ordinary Disruption’ at the Flying Dutchman. I started off by thinking about vinyl lettering on the wall after doing much research into the work of Lawrence Weiner. This quickly transcended into an interest in how the audience would interact with the work. Through my dissertation research and previous work with screens I knew it was important for me to somehow mimic the interaction we have with screens but on a much larger scale, without using a screen.

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This is how the three blue banners heralding the large pixelated letters were developed. This shade of blue is recognisable as the digital screen-of-death blue, so in some ways I wanted to utilize it in a way that would symbolise personal loss, technological frustration and digital apocalypse. This also refers to recently out dated computing technology, acknowledging the pace of technological developments. I wanted the letters to be unreadable when close up, revealing only an array of randomly collected pixels, but readable from further away. This worked in the sense that the letters were blurred and could only be read easily when a photo was taken, but the banners were not big enough to create the exact effect that I wanted.

Initially I aimed to present my own writing, but this ended up being condensed into the three words ‘Internet Search History’. Putting these on separate banners I felt amplified the way in which these words all have their own very broad and separate meanings, but when bought together into this modern triptych they not only deal with the specificity of the personal, but also acknowledge the breadth of mans invention of the Internet to search and archive a seemingly infinite amount of data.

These ideas also stemmed from Boris Groys’ writings on the Internet and memory. In this sense I was eager to explore the idea of the Internet as collective memory, and the cataloguing of Internet searches as personal memory logs. Internet Search Histories are often seen as private places, logging personal interests and preferences, which is why advertising and marketing use html cookies to legally gain access to this intimate information in order to create more accurate statistical data. This is where I feel the liberal ideology of the 60’s vision of the Internet, where we are all free to pursue our own interests and pleasures and the capitalist dogma collide, and therefore why I felt it was important to present this very specific artefact.

Evan Roth’s work ‘Internet Cache self portrait’ series that was shown at the Electronic Superhighway exhibition influenced the materiality of this works conception. Initially I also wanted to print this work onto vinyl as I felt it was important that it existed on something heavy and tactile, but due to costs and practicality I opted for the PVC banners. Roth’s work has been hugely influential on my own practice, as I feel that he sophistically deals with the very ideas and questions that fuel my own practice. In reflection I can now see that my banners and Roth’s ‘Internet Cache self-portrait’ are suspiciously similar. In Roth’s work he revealed his browsing habits through algorithmically displayed images into physicality by printing them on vinyl. It seems that my piece of work was just unproductively condensing these ideas. At the time I did not notice that I was not simply being influenced by Roth but was actually going through the motions of the exact same idea and executing it to a much lower standard. I do feel though that I developed these ideas independently of Roth’s work, which demonstrates to me that my ideas and opinions are apart of an on-going and relevant discussion.

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Evan Roth ‘Internet Cache self portrait’ at the White Chapel’s 2016 exhibition ‘Electronic Superhighway’ 

There are notable differences between the works though. I chose to print the work over three rectangular banners in an attempt to physicalize Internet tabs, making it possible for them to be overlaid, separated and re combined. I feel that the materiality of the banners also provide connotations of both protest and advertising, which I believe to be an interesting collision of opposing interests. This represents the way in which the Internet can be used for political liberation and open discussion, whilst being primarily fuelled and influenced by the dogma of capitalism.

The idea of protest that I wanted to inhabit the work I believe to be a very important part of the discussion about how we use the Internet. As our actions are being monitored more than ever before, along side the careful catering to our personal likes and dislikes, the most effective form of protest is passivity. Instead of taking to the streets with banners and signs, the most effective way of showing dissatisfaction with the current abilities of the online is to not use these mediums just as if we are not impressed by the ethics of a company or service the most effective way to harm it is by collective and individual avoidance. This is an idea that is not completely formed or researched at this stage but I believe it can be recognised somewhere within this work, and that is what sets it apart from being a shitty replica of Roth’s portraits.

The second piece of work was titled ‘UPDATE/OUTDATE’. Originally I acquired multiple photo frames to show a collection of short screen recordings such as ‘the lovers’. The aim of this work was to show how online advertising interacts with online content on creative sharing platforms such as Tumblr. In this example I felt that the anonymous image on the left which stages a romantic setting between two lovers and the condom advert on the right created an interesting dialogue. The static image on the left, which could be any thing from a still from a pornographic film to the work of a professional artist, depicts a romantic fantasy like intimacy between two lovers, whereas the advert on the right uses domesticity and banality alongside humour to promote its product. I think I found this interesting because the similarity of the images highlights how anonymous images on the Internet are liberated from their original purpose when shared just for their aesthetic qualities and value, creating and evolving new meanings and understandings.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/193978467″>the lovers</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/amberclausner”>Amber Clausner</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Unfortunately this didn’t work as the photo frames I bought did not support the files that I wanted to show on them. During this technical frustration, I entered a SD card into one of the photo frames that had been left in another of the photo frames that I had purchased second hand. The 1GB SD card contained hundreds of images of a white, middle-class family. By chance, when I entered the SD card into this photo frame, all of these accidentally acquired images glitched unexpectedly. I then became obsessed with this as a looping slideshow as I found that each image glitched differently every time it appeared on the slideshow. This was just a coincidence between two opposing technologies and I would have no idea how to re create or force it but I felt it was important to show this at Lewisham in order to comment on the rapid development of technology which annually renders many working pieces of tech useless, contributing to vast rates of waste and consumption in the ‘developed’ world.

The photo frame I felt was an especially important tool in regards to this discussion. The research for my dissertation was focused primarily on how the past predicted the future, which inevitably included William Cameron Menzies 1936 film adaptation of H. G. Wells’ 1933 story ‘Things to Come’. In the 2036 that they both imagine, screens have replaced windows. Anne Friedberg discusses this prediction in ‘The Virtual Window’; “As flat-screen technology improves and screens replace real windows with a kind of “inhabited TV,” a “windows environment” may give was to virtual “window-walls,” an image not far from the shape of H. G. Wells’s Things to Come.” The reason I found the photo frames so interesting in this context is that they are this prediction come to fruition but in a low quality, kitsch, out-dated way.

Digital photo frames are rarely come across in use, they are the classically dis-regarded Christmas present, used once on boxing day then left to gather dust in the loft. They herald the idea of unlimited digital benefits – ‘Show off your holiday photos all year round’ – but the reality is that not many people are organised to archive and edit their banal photographs for constant public display. They also symbolize the cross over from analogue to digital photography. As physical photo albums gave way to Facebook photo sharing, there has been a loss of physical photo collecting. The digital camera allows us to take (seemingly) unlimited amounts of photos, which causes us to take more photos then we would ever need. These photos then lay dormant in files on our computers, taking up unnecessary digital space that we have become sentimentally attached to. After the initial hype of digital photography’s benefits consumers began missing the physicality of the photo album and I see the digital photo frame as a domestic and commercial object that attempted to reclaim that.

Ultimately I do not think that either of these works are particularly successful. Although they manifest many of the ideas and research that I was working with for my dissertation I do not think that they were engaging or informative to an audience. I also believe that the failure of these works shows that I am much more comfortable and successful when working with film. I realised after setting up the exhibition that the lack of audio was why I felt so dissatisfied with the work. Recently I have been considering how problematic it is that our culture is so dependant on the sense of sight, and therefore have realised how important it is to engage with the other senses. In this regard I have learnt that I want to develop my use of sound in my practice and move away from sculptural and pictorial content.

James Richards at the ICA: Requests and Antisongs

This exhibition was detrimental to the shift in my recent practice. Richard’s work at the ICA taught me pivotal lessons about editing, sound and found footage selection. Starting with the work on the ground floor ‘Crumb Mahogany’ I was confronted by a continuous onslaught of re-used and re-appropriated noises. I had never heard sound be used in such a material way before experiencing this work, it shifts from ambient tones of machinery to a sudden sample of folk music, to police sirens, to birdsong and then it will become so much louder and then quieter and there is no way of knowing or judging the duration of the experience because it is so queer and unsettling. These sound samples do not only trigger imagery but most importantly emotional reactions. It is this use of sound that I experimented with in my most recent work ‘I FEEL’, where I focused not only what was visually happening in the found YouTube videos but also the audio, what the film maker was saying, the tone of the voice and how the sounds of the environment were also captured. Of course sampling ‘unmusical’ sounds is something that has been commonly used by musical artists from Brian Eno (Appollo 1983) to Jamie T (Panic Prevention 2007), but Richards’ work is completely unmusical itself. It actually reverses this relationship by sampling short bursts of recognisable music scores into this textural body of familiar noise.

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James Richards ‘Crumb Mahogany’

The only thing I could not enjoy about this work was the presentation; it felt very uncomfortable and forced to experience the work in this environment. The benches were unforgiving when all I wanted to do was lie down and close my eyes, I was bothered by other visitors entering the space and I felt very strongly that I wanted to be alone in the dark, to not be seen, whilst I was experiencing the work. This would also, in my opinion, heighten some of the dramatic shifts in the scale of the noises, because at times the sounds used could shock and startle, but being on edge already meant that the effect was not truly felt. This critique fed into my decision of how to present ‘I FEEL’, it became important to create a space of isolation where the viewer could be on their own to experience the work, so that moments of unexpected shift in volume were more unsettling, and the viewer was able to react freely, without the pressure of ego or anxiety whilst simultaneously being more vulnerable.

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‘I FEEL’ – Installation view

Moving upstairs I was immediately drawn towards the main third of this solo show; ‘Radio at Night’. The use of found footage here fed directly into my own decision making with clips selected for ‘I FEEL’. For my work I had to find a way to get the separate clips to flow into one another, which I attempted to achieve with the continuous soundtrack and fading cuts. Richards’ on the other hand makes very direct cuts from one image into the next, but his sound track is also the way that these images are able to relate to one another, although this soundtrack is made up of mechanical noises and accompanies the video instead of being apart of it. One of the most striking things about this video work was the way in which Richards’ layers two clips, but instead of having them play simultaneously, one clip borders the other, or the clips move slowly and orderly across the screen creating visual narratives whilst never really letting any clip truly end. This makes for a really interesting moving collage and addresses the flatness of the screen whilst also playing with perception and movement which creates a disorientating vieweing experience.

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James Richards – ‘Radio at Night’ Installation

Also worth noting is the repetition of clips and imagery, starting with a looping shot of woodland, then to a masquerade scene that are both repeated at the end, the film then moves on to imagery that is projected in the opposite room. This addresses a very important problem of using imagery in artwork, because psychologically images have much more importance to us if we see them multiple times. By repeating the content from the beginning at the end, Richards manages to create a work that feels circular, cyclical, that can continue indefinitely.

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I think it is also important for me recognise the beautifully selected colour palette, which ranged from dark gold’s to ice blues, but mainly greys. This selection made often vulgar and repulsive images seductive and clinical. This is a quality that I shall hopefully be able to translate into my own work as currently my choice in footage and imagery is being led by its relationship to the ridiculous and viral which often means that the colours are crass and unconsidered. Although I have always preferred not having control over the aesthetic of my work, perhaps this is what is lacking to really create the subtle approach to my subject that I want in order to sophisticatedly effect my audience.

Silvestre Pestana’s retrospective ‘Tecnoforma’ at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art – Porto, Portugal

‘Technoforma’ takes visitors on an engaging interrogation of the relationship between technology and the body. For myself it was a beautiful and poetic retrospective introduction to an artist in his 5th decade of activism, generally unknown outside of Portugal. Consisting of a dynamic and diverse practice with works ranging from collages, film to installation and sculpture, I feel a little out of my depths attempting to talk about an artist as intelligent as Pestana, so please forgive me if this writing does not do his work justice.

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Installation view of ‘Tecnoforma'(2016) – (‘The invisible worker’ can be seen in action)

With most of the works having been made 30-50 years ago it is astounding how relevant their ideas remain in the Internet age of today. The political and social focus of the changing relationship between the body and technology echoes ideas presented in works and writings by internationally acclaimed artist Nam June Paik, which leaves Pestana’s worldwide anonymity a bit of a mystery.

This focus on the relationship between technology and the body was showcased quite brilliantly in the recently realised kinetic work: ‘The invisible worker’ (2016). This consisted of several small, circular robots whirring around the gallery, moving at a speed much faster than the average human pace. These domestic robots chased and tripped the audience, creating a tension between annoyance and humour, but most importantly they reminded us of the precarious nature of contemporary work.

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Installation view of ‘Tecnoforma’ (2016) – (‘The invisible worker’ can be seen stationary)

Earlier works focused predominantly on Pestana’s ‘Biovirtual’ (1981-1987) series made in the 80’s, with black and white images of the artist contrasted with white neon lights dominating the last room of the exhibition. These works present a very literal contrast between the organic organism of the body and the industrial materials of technology.

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‘Biovirtual’ works (1981-1987)

‘Necro Eco Pietá’, (1979) a photographic series of 10 images near the end of the exhibition also uses the form of contrast to interrogate the modern human’s relationship with death. This is one of the most striking works of photography I have ever seen and living in a world of over abundant imagery this is quite a triumph. Beautifully composed, the artist holds a skeleton against his body along with the props of a gas mask and a cigarette. The symbolism in this series for me represents the ridiculous-ness of the life we have made for ourselves; the protection we will one day need from the environment that created us and the self inflicting damage caused by addiction, bringing us closer to our death whilst bringing others into a monetary profit…but only in this life.

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1/10 of the series ‘Necro Eco Pieta” (1979)

 

The most interesting thing I found in this exhibition was the emphasis on the body, the performative side of the art and the presence of the artist himself in many of the works. It started making me think about how the body is the one thing that we don’t have to pay for, but it is the only thing that we truly own, and our physical organism is a constant reminder of how unnatural trade is as this process of ownership does not involve a single transaction.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick at Somerset House

The first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space Odyssey (1968) was at a screening held by the BFI in late 2014. On the walk back to Waterloo station my friend (a long-standing and dedicated Kubrick fan) turned to me and asked me what I had thought of the experience. I simply had no answer. Unable to get my feeble human mind around the scope of what I had just seen, I was in a state of awe and confusion. Even now, after a number of re watches, the consumption of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 series and several YouTube videos explaining camera techniques, I still feel inadequate to answer that question without doing the masterpiece that is 2001 a gross injustice. What I have not been able to stop asking since that day is; how can one mind conceive such a monumental idea and even more so, put it into an accessible experience? Inspired in my own practice by Kubrick’s breadth of curiosity, ideas and styles I went to Somerset House’s ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’ exhibition to see how established artists have been influenced by one man’s mind.

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I was firstly pleased to find that this was indeed not a show of sourced film props and camera equipment as so many exhibitions for anyone related to film often are. Unfortunately though the work on display varied from brilliant artistic conceptions to some rather poor and confusing works, with no real in-between. Despite this the successful works were (almost) worth the visit alone. Starting with Mat Collishaws’ isolated ‘A Ω’ (2016) which manages to condense the entirety of 2001: A Space Odyssey into a single object, gave me hope for the quality of works ahead.

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  ‘A Ω’ (2016) – Mat Collishaw

Just around the corner I was not yet disappointed being faced with; ‘Requiem for 114 radios’ (2016) by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. If it had not been for the other visitors it would have been all too easy to convince my self that I was in a real life horror story, stumbling across a room filled with a suspicious amount of radios that all suddenly come to life in the middle of the night, like something from The Shining (1980). Leaning closer to individual radio sets the viewer will notice that each one has a different voice of varying pitch and tone contributing to the recital of ‘Dias Irae’, echoing that famous scene from Eyes Wide Shut (1999). The disembodied choir and dimly lit room manipulate the senses until the rooms’ eerie qualities become unbearably similar to Hal’s last moments in 2001, robotic yet somehow pathetically quivering; ‘Daisy, Daisy…’

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‘Requiem for 114 Radios’ (2016) – Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Up there with ‘Requiem for 114 radios’ was Toby Dye’s installation ‘The Corridor’ (2016). The small dark room of the installation provided a contrast against the sparse white walls of the hospital on which the panoramic action takes place. The life size projections of characters and events allows viewers to become totally immersed in the narrative but the constant motion of the camera prohibits us from ever feeling present within it. Yet the audience finds themselves in the invisible centre of this interweaving, 4 dimensional story that rolls on infinitely. There is a lot to be said for the sound design on this work as well, not only was the score (‘Lonely Soul’ provided by James Lavelle’s ‘UNKLE’) a perfect fit, but the synchronisation of folio sounds kept you constantly on your toes, looking from screen to screen.

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‘The corridor’ (2016) – Toby Dye

Aside from these worthy homages, it did feel that there were many works that were painfully pointless. These were works that focused on elevating Kubrick to a god-like status rather than reflecting on his works. The most extreme examples of this was Chris Levine’s impressive but simultaneously ludicrous ‘Mr. Kubrick is Looking’ (2016), in which an LED light contains the visual information of a self portrait of Stanley Kubrick, so when looked at out of peripheral vision it momentarily flashes into sight. Another was Mark Karasick’s ‘SK1928’ (2016) an installation consisting of 220 paper sheets pieced together to form a painted image of Kubrick as a quite uncomfortable looking baby. The marble inscription underneath reading; ‘The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent…’ along with the eerily anonymous type writer noise makes you feel like you’re being forced into mournful tears, and it’s just a bit weird.

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‘Mr. Kubrick is looking’ (2016) – Chris Levine

My expectation of this exhibition was to follow lines of influence from Kubrick into all variations of artistic practice and following that, into society. But instead it felt that this exhibition was generally homage to the man rather than to the work. Suspiciously the majority of the works were dated as made in 2016, giving the impression that these works had not been previously realised by the artists until they received a brief from the curator. This then, made the exhibition feel more like fan art made by big names, rather than a genuine showcase of Kubrick’s influence.

140 per minute; Rave Culture and Art in 1990’s Poland – at Open’r music festival, Gdynia, Poland.

Referring to the beats in classic techno dance music belonging to 90’s cyber culture, this exhibition explores the relationship between politics, technology and art at the end of the 20th century. In his book ‘After the Future’ (2011) Italian theorist Franco Beradi (Bifo) refers to the 1900’s as ‘the century that trusted in the future’, but notes the negative shift in this belief starting in the final decades of the 20th century, ending with cyber culture in the 1990’s. Bifo describes cyber culture as a new type of utopia, one that differs from the utopia of progression and expansion imagined by the rest of the century;

“The Net is the utopia of an infinite, virtual space where countless trajectories of billions of intelligent agents meet and create their economic, cultural, and psychic reality.”

This too, reflects rave culture also taking place in 1990’s Poland where electronic music parties;

“began to appear in Poland together with the political system change in the early 90s, often voicing the naive, but nonetheless authentic optimism of opening up to the world, its civilizational and technological advancement.”

Bifo believes that the previously imagined utopia’s, so focused on economic and special growth, have caused the inevitability of environmental catastrophe, and pre empting it; our modern obsession with dystopia. This is embodied in the work of Janek Simon, whose work ‘Robot VJ mixing channels 1 and 2’ was included in the ‘140 beats per minute exhibition’. Simon’s practice strives for autonomy from our commodity dependant civilisation with works such as ‘Home made digital watch’ (2005), as well as works which physically predict the apocalypse such as ‘Slight Earth quake’ (2004) (a shaking glass of water) reflecting the importance of our own preparation for the end of the future.

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View of the “140 beats per minute” exhibition, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski   

Perhaps most efficient at transforming the viewer into the visual dimension of the 1990’s were the spatial installations by Andrzej Miastkowski; ‘That which appears everyday and makes itself’ (1997) and Piotr Wryzykowski; ‘Global Social Organism’ (1996). The first of which consisted of a black-lit room with walls decorated with small fragments of neon yellow, surrounding an intricately adorned shrine in the centre of the room. The added element of sound, a soothingly hypnotic pulse, (which was unfortunately rather drowned out by the wailings of Bastille taking place on the main stage at the time of my exhibition exploration) created a juxtaposition between the senses, a tension that mimics that of the 90’s rave culture; both stimulating and soothing, a comfort and a threat.

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Andrzej Miastkowski, Wspólnota Leeeżeć, “To, co widnieje każdego dnia i czyni się samo”, 1997, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Wryzykowski’s installation consisted of a spinning disco ball in the centre of a black room, the lights of which reached into every corner of the installation. Considering the admirable number of Wryzykowski’s artistic and politically active successes, I feel as though this was a rather bland representation of a truly inspiring artist.

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Piotr Wyrzykowski “Globalny Społeczny Organizm”, 1996, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

Fortunately Wryzykowski’s greater achievements were showcased in ‘Test na Cyborga’ (Cyborg Test) (1996) by C.U.K.T, the Polish art collective he co-founded in 1995. This piece was the personal highlight of the exhibition for me, a documentation of a happening performed by both the collective and the general public. C.U.K.T set up raves open to everyone willing to exchange information about their weight and size of their body, they then had a number relating to this information branded onto their left hand with permanent marker, and had this hand photocopied. A selection of these photocopies were shown alongside the contract filled out by the rave goer and three screens documenting this process. For me, this trade between experience and personal information predicts and reflects the workings of modern social media, and poses the question; why do we perceive things as ‘free’ only if we are not exchanging money for it. With further research into this collective and their activism, (in particular their creation of Wictoria Cukt, a virtual presidential candidate for the 2001 Polish election that had the potential to electrically embody all of the views of all of the people using the infinite space of the internet), I realised that this collective’s core beliefs are in fact very close to my own. Their anti-institutional attitude puts life at the forefront of activity, not art, something I believe is sorely missing from the practices that surround me in 2016 Britain.

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C.U.K.T, “Test na cyborga” (fragment), Warsaw, Zielona Góra, Düsseldorf, 1995, photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

In all, this exhibition remained faithful to the works on display, being confined to their specific timescale was vital for the audience to understand the anthropological significance of the works, which I sometimes feel can be lost with decade specific exhibitions. The midst of Poland’s biggest music festival was the perfect setting for this educational exhibition, although afterwards I would have been quite partial to a bit of hard core techno music, of which was lacking at the festival as Bastille was STILL playing, so in a way this exhibition commented on it’s location itself – the commercialized world of music. Ultimately the selection of works on show walked me through the setting of 90’s culture that I had read about in ‘After the Future’, visually demonstrating those feelings of scepticism and celebration prior to Y2K.

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim palace exhibition review

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp caused controversy by placing a urinal within the white walls of the art world, a centaury later Ai Weiwei removes his creations, a combination of ready-mades and specifically made sculptures, out of these white walls and into the luxurious setting of Blenheim palace to spark a debate that undeniably puts art back into the service of the mind.

The curator, Michael Frahm, has described the exhibitions aims as ‘trying to give an insight into how contemporary art can look in a 300-year old building.’ But with Ai’s pieces being so politically charged, it is not so easy to read the contrast between setting and work as simply aesthetic, and the tribute to Duchamp hanging above Winston Churchill’s birth bed makes it near impossible.

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Chandelier 2002

Ai is most famous for his provocative destruction of historical Chinese artifacts so to see the largest UK exhibition of his work in a world heritage site that functions solely on the preservation of historical artifacts is dizzying to say the least. On entering the ‘green drawing room’, visitors of Blenheim are greeted by several Han Dynasty Vases that date back to 202 BC. Unlike the perfectly preserved artifacts native to Blenheim, these vases have been defaced, smoothed into a slick metallic gleam by auto paints. Within the white walls of a gallery space this act of destruction instantly transforms the vases from historical Chinese artifacts to an anonymous tribute to industrialization, highlighting the negative experiences that Ai has faced with the Chinese government, but the uncomfortable contrast that occurs when placing them in a historical time capsule achieves much more than this.

Not all of Ai’s pieces are so easily distinguishable from Blenheim’s extensive collection though, the grand Chandelier which opens the show spectacularly seems right at home within the confines of the 300 year old architecture, as do the beautiful floral plates in the China Ante room which are said to be inspired by the flowers that Ai puts in the basket of his bike everyday to mourn the freedom he had before his long standing house arrest in 2011.

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Han Dynasty Urns (202 BC) in auto paint 2014

In the finale of the exhibition, held in the Long library, Ai’s series ‘Study of perspective’ is impossible to miss. Whether the viewers focus is on the borderline explicit content, or the fact that landscape prints have been presented at a head turning 90 degree angle (an inevitable miscalculation caused by curating an entire exhibition from another country), these images are unavoidably confronting. This is where the exhibition really comes to a climax, the pictures hassle the viewers, whether they have come to see Ai’s work or not, with a semiotic view of authority, so much so that they obstruct access to the books that the library holds.

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Study of perspective 1995-2003

On leaving this exhibition my strongest impression was one of discomfort. Ai’s use of destruction throughout his work is heightened at Blenheim in a way that a white walled gallery could not achieve. Frahm’s curiosity as to what contemporary art would look like in a 300 year old building has not been successful because of its aesthetics, but because of the revolutionary discovery of what happens when you take art out of normality and into an interior that harshly contradicts the work, just as Duchamp did back in 1917. The conflict between preservation and destruction is on going here, it is mentally jarring to experience Ai’s work, which destructs and belittles the culture of his country in the context of Blenheim, which preserves and glorifies material objects that once belonged to the inherent elite.

Martin Creed – What’s the point of it? Exhibition review.

This week I was fortunate enough to go to the Martin Creed exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. I have never known much about this artist previously but had been told to give it ago because his work was similar to the kind of thing I want to be doing in my final major project, I agree as I was surprised at how well this exhibition happened to fit in with my own project. It seems that Martin Creed too aims to create pieces of art which create extreme reactions in the viewer whether it be disgust, fear, anxiety or even relief. As soon as I entered the exhibition space I became completely overwhelmed, before being able to even look at any of the work my access to the gallery space was obstructed by a sofa which had been placed just in front of the entrance so that you had to focus on awkwardly getting around it before being able to think about the rest of the work. Once you get your bearings you are instantly disorientated again by a compulsive ticking noise, which you later find to be thirty-nine metronomes, and at the same time you are also aware that there is a large steel bar travelling towards you at a very threatening speed, the natural reaction is to duck, even through practically you know that there is no chance it could actually hit you. It takes a few minutes before you can truly begin to look at the work, it actually took me a while to notice that the big spinning piece of metal actually carried the word ‘MOTHERS’ in big neon lighting. The effect that this opening room had on me is exactly what I want to try and do to the audience of my work in this project, I also aim to completely disorientate those viewing my work to create a sense of anxiety and unease. 

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Opening room to Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery ‘What’s the point of it?’

I was particularly intrigued at Creed’s use of audio throughout the exhibition as this is something that I have not seen used much and definitely something I had never considered using before, as I found it was a really effective way of confusing the senses of the audience. A perfect example of this was in the second room of the exhibition where there was a lone speaker sitting in the corner with no apparent visual work connected to it which was repetitively playing an audio of someone blowing a raspberry. This was seen by many of the spectators that I observed as quite amusing as it a sound that is usually associated with childish behaviour, but this got me thinking about how I could use taboo sounds in my own work to make people feel uncomfortable such as recordings of people having sex or blowing their nose or even farting. The other piece of audio used in this room was produced using a piano. Instructions are a big part of Creed’s work, and over the shoulder of the security guard turned musician instructions on how to play the piano that went as follows:

“Play all the notes on the keyboard – the full chromatic scale – going up from bottom to top.

Rest for the same amount of time that it took to play all the notes.

Play all the notes – the full chromatic scale – going down from top to bottom.

Rest again – as above.

Repeat endlessly.”

I find this idea of rules and regulations to create formulaic art really interesting even though it may not apply to my current work. This piece confused me, as it made me question, what part of the formula is the actual art product? Is it the piano, the audio, the instructions or the player? Or is Creed trying to highlight the fact that nowadays artists are not always the creators of their own art but set out instructions for other people to complete to create it after they have come up with the concept.

This concept was also displayed in his broccoli prints where Creed used the same process a thousand times but changed variables to the formula to create a thousand different results. From afar the result was repetitive but on closer inspection you notice that each print has produced a unique outcome. The combination of these prints shown side by side on one wall is rather overwhelming and I feel that this use of repetition on such a large scale is something I should consider experimenting with in my own work.

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‘Work No. 100 Broccoli prints’ Martin Creed (2009-2010)

Another process that Creed uses that I felt was of importance to my own work was his pieces where he has covered the whole piece of paper with markings from a felt tip or marker pen as I found that the results were so strange and unusual yet completely unexplainable as to why they are so interesting. I think it may be because of the way we traditionally expect a pen of such nature to be used, and the places where one line stops and overlaps half way through the page with another is visually confusing especially when this is repeated with all the lines on the page in different places. I found it even more visually confusing when the lines weren’t completely straight as it created obscured textures and shapes. I experimented with this technique but tried creating shapes and even images by changing the darkness of the line by going over it. This was quite an obscure process to use but I liked the outcome because it was a totally new way of making imagery with a marker pen than I would have ever thought of.

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Example of Martin Creed’s wok with marker pens from his 21 part series ‘Work No.944’ (2008)
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My own experimentation with Creed’s marker pen work

A large part of Creed’s concept behind his work is the idea of making decision but choosing all options instead of either, and the anxiety we face in making choices. As my current project is based around myself I think this is an important concept that I could consider working with as I am currently faced with the decision of what university I want to go to next year, but unfortunately choosing both is not actually an option for me. These pieces such as; ‘Work No. 990 Curtains’ And ‘Work No. 227 The lights going on and off’ where he uses automated signals to open and close the curtains and the lights to turn on for 30 seconds and then turn off. When I was in the gallery I interpreted this as the artist choosing what we did and did not see. These pieces also give the audience a sense of disorientation and then relief, as one does not appreciate the light until it is turned off or the view until the curtain is drawn, but once the light is turned on again or the curtain is open a sense of normality is restored but we are in a state of anxious anticipation for the cycle to repeat.

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‘Work No. 990 Curtains opening and closing.’ Martin Creed (2009)

A piece that the exact concept of my project I am working on currently was ‘Work No. 1820 – light bulbs and fixtures.’ This was situated at the top of the stairs so as a viewer you did not seeing coming before you were face to face with it because of the form of the staircase. This piece was too physically painful to look at directly as it had several light bulbs of all different forms all too bright to look at and the effect was so overwhelming that the viewers had to hold a hand in front of their faces to shield themselves from the intrusion of light to their senses. It is this that I want to create in my own work, something that is too visually distressing to look at straight away, an instant reaction is created, to look away and protect your vision.

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‘Work N0. 1820 – lights and fixtures’ Martin Creed

The exhibitions biggest selling point was ‘Work No. 200’ or more commonly known as ‘The Balloon room’ which consisted of a room with half the air filled with balloons. This was by far the most interactive piece of art I have ever experienced. Whether the viewer finds it humorous or overwhelmingly claustrophobic, each individual has to cope with how close the art is in proximity to them as the nature of this piece completely invades your personal space, therefore giving the viewer an experience whether they like it or not. Personally I really enjoyed being completely submerged in the balloons and wandering around with no knowledge of the shape or even the size of the room I was in, my perception of where I was and my bearings, was completely over thrown without a clue where the exit was and it is this confusion in the audience that I aim to create in my own work for this project.

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‘Work No. 200 – Half the air in a given space’ Martin Creed (1998)

Creed’s film work is also something that has given me a lot to reflect on. His films ‘Ships coming in’ were very relaxing to watch, a strange game of spot the difference where both screens are unbearably similar, showing the repetitive nature of life itself. The only reason I felt any unease at all was because I had to stand for an unknown duration of time as in theory both videos could have gone on for any duration of time, whereas in the last room of the exhibition scenes were being shown from Creed’s ‘Sick and Shit’ and there was a bench in front of the screen inviting me to sit down in front of the screen in comfort. I think this contrast is really interesting as it was almost embarrassing to be seen watching these videos of peoples bodily functions let alone be seen sitting down comfortably in front of them for an extended period of time. This has given me ideas for creating an installation film piece that is uncomfortable to watch and placing a comfortable chair in front of it and instructing that only one person should go in at a time to watch it, making it a much more intimate and intense experience for the viewer. I find the contents of these videos, as is hardly surprising, disgusting but interesting in their concept, as Creed uses them to visually show ‘horrible feelings’ which we can’t physically capture. As in my own work where I have tried to describe feelings of anxiety or depression there has been no way I have thought of to visually show these feelings visually but by creating videos of horrible things that everyone can relate to Creed has captured this perfectly. This piece especially caused huge reactions in the audience where viewers were both humoured and revolted, I myself felt nauseous when watching the videos of people throwing up but it is this kind of feeling that I hope to produce in my audience.

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‘Work No. 405 – Ships coming in’ Martin Creed (2005)
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‘Work No. 610 – sick film’ Martin Creed (2006)

Ultimately I found this to be a wonderful, interactive exhibition and I thoroughly enjoyed every experience that I took away from it and would encourage anyone and everyone to go along to see it. I hope I will be able to use this experience as inspiration in this project to create emotionally effective work.