This feeling of excitement was slowly exchanged with a feeling of alienation as I entered the space. On entering the gallery I was met with a plush exterior of marble and stillness along with an overly polite steward who guided me around each piece with watchful eyes. In some ways this was an alternative gallery space, the beige walls and extravagant furnishings are worlds away from the conventional white cube. But instead of an exhibition curated to evoke relationships between viewers and art, this show successfully separated the audience whilst simultaneously turning kinetic art into conceptual artifacts.
All of the works that use electronical mechanisms, such as; ‘Strutturaziune fluida’ and ‘Robo optic’, to release their kinetic potentials are turned on and off individually by the steward as, of course, they are in a fragile state. This staged interaction transforms works that were originally designed to “[change] the spectator’s conventional relationship with reality, both physically and psychically” into relics held in a very wealthy museum. This dynamic between, viewer, work, steward and space denies the viewer of any reflective or intimate moments with the work, creating an awkward tension and inadequate presentation of the works incredible potential to engage viewers.
There was one space in this exhibition where this dialogue is allowed, and that is within Colombo’s immersive installation; ‘Topoestesia – tre zone contigue [itinerario programmato] (which translates to: ‘Topoesthesia – three contiguous zones [programmed itinerary]’). This is where I really felt the effect of what Colombo had designed for me as a viewer, I was transported into an other worldly interior that had disorientated my senses in a way that can only be experienced to be understood. I feel that this theme of wonder and visceral experience would continue throughout the show if the works were shown in the way that they were intended to be.
Of course, the limited function and interaction of these works is not the fault of the gallery but by displaying these originals instead of re worked productions places too much importance on the artist rather than to the experience of the viewer. It is known that Gruppo T (the kinetic art group that Colombo formed), had their works produced as multiples as a way to “distance the works from the artworld’s cult of the author.” These ideals of Colombo’s is something that I feel that this exhibitions curation ignores, thus creating an exhibition of incredibly exciting work that is made stagnant due to the importance placed on the items originality rather than it’s kinetic potential to evoke real awe and experience in the viewer.
It is the third of ‘Three studies at the base of a Crucifixion’ (1944) that haunts my imagination every time I hear the word ‘painting’. It may be the animalistic scream echoing from the mouth of the spliced subject or perhaps it is that this painting seems to carry the brightest orange of them all, and with it the most excruciating pain. Either way, memory does not do justice to the reality of standing before this triptych that is so vibrantly dark, it steals the natural light that flows through Tate Britain’s glorious architecture.
If you are able to drag yourself away from this introduction to the galleries, it is possible to take yourself on a tour of some of Francis Bacon’s most famous works within the BP walk through British Art display. Moving into the gallery exhibiting works from the 1970-80’s, one will find another dramatic expression by Bacon, ‘Triptych’ (1972). Here we can see the development of both Bacon’s painting style and subject, but when looking around the rest of the room we can also see the development of the art world as a whole. From Antony Gormley’s bread ‘Bed’ (1980-1) to Eddie Chambers’ ‘Destruction of the national front’ (1979-80), signs of post modernism are everywhere. At both sides of the rooms entrance sit two quadrilateral monochromatic pieces; to the right, Stephen Partridge’s ‘Monitor’ (1975) and to the left, John Hilliard’s ‘Camera Recording its own Condition’ (1971). Both of these pieces seem so far removed from the emotion and exploitation of Bacon’s ‘Triptych’ that it seems strange they can even be displayed in the same room.
It was the performativity and playfulness of Partridge’s ‘Monitor’, a video displayed on the screen that is the subject of the video itself, which initially led me toward it. Displayed at eye level, the screen rotates and twists, hypnotizing the viewer with its slow, rhythmic beat, making it difficult to distinguish from the physicality of the real monitor and the representation of itself within the film it shows. It was this use of entrapment and reflection within a single medium that also drew me towards Hilliard’s ‘Camera Recording it’s own condition’. Just as repetitive as ‘Monitor’, but on a much larger scale, this piece both critiques the analogue photography process whilst also showcasing its possible perfection. Hilliard is most famous for his photography work that exposes the faults and subjectivity of the medium. I was aware whilst at Tate Britain that his piece ‘Cause of Death’ (1974) was being displayed down the road at the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition ‘History is now’, demonstrating the relevance of Hilliard’s technological exposures 40 years on.
Both of these pieces by Hilliard and Partridge were born out of the rise in technology and although they are created from documentation, they subvert the limitations of the mediums used, marking the birth of photography and video as an art form. Meanwhile the use of these accessible tools, materials and simplistic processes also diminish the social boundaries of high and low art. In comparison to Bacon’s paintings these pieces are devoid of emotion and cultural history, but because of this they become limitless. They swap emotion for playfulness and cultural history for technological boundaries, finding the foundations and limitations of these new mediums before they can be developed into artistic expressions. Although I will always find the paradox of an art display funded by BP hard to swallow, this longstanding display at Tate Britain is always giving. There is always something to be learnt in the static interior of these gallery spaces whilst the world outside its walls continues to shift and change, just as the worth and relevance of the work it holds.
Almost ironically I found this exhibition to be a visually and intellectually overwhelming display of a genre of art that began by simplifying perspective into geometric forms. This notion of abstraction as a universal language felt absent in the curation here as I fought my way through a bombardment of imagery and descriptions in my own adventure of the black square.
Opening with Kazimir Malevich’s visual representation of utopian ideals through the compositional balance of ‘Black quadrilateral’ (circa. 1915) we witness the birth of abstraction, and with it the notion of revolutionary art. From here on the exhibition traces the development of artistic abstraction over the past centaury, observing its on going relationship with an ever-changing society. We are followed by Malevich’s paintings and those he closely influenced until we are introduced to Piet Mondrian’s painting; ‘Composition with Yellow, Red and Blue’ (1937-42). The exhibitions curation suggests the influence of Malevich’s black square in Mondrian’s foundations of neoplasticism. Yet here we see Mondrian’s visual practice of the dynamic equilibrium theory coming together with the abstraction of natural perspective into primal shapes that influenced a movement of aesthetic design.
This tangent of abstraction that talks about consumerism in the Western world was the easiest for me to follow due to my own reality. Following Mondrian’s composition I was struck by the lack of colour in both Dóra Maurer’s ‘Seven Rotations’ (1979) and Hassan Sharif’s ‘Drawing squares on the floor using a cube’ (1982) that seemed to continue Mondrian’s message. Both are similar in their process of squashing 3 dimensions into 2 dimensional representations but I think it is their suggestion of the endlessness of both art and abstraction where their strength lies. The presentation of Maurer’s photographs was worth the trip to the gallery itself. The transformation from the initial image to the last exploits the audience’s process of image reading. Demonstrated by the simplicity of the first image of Maurer holding the emptiness of the white square alongside the complexity of the final photograph, where the audience is asked to mentally deconstruct the image to understand it’s origins.
Upstairs this theme of materiality and disorientation in abstract art lead me to Gunilla Klingberg’s video piece ‘Spar Loop’ (2000) where I began to see evidence of contemporary abstractions perception and interaction with society. Klingberg’s kaleidoscopic animation of logos explores the abstract of the everyday in Western society by mimicking the spiritual capacity of consumerism. In some ways this piece echoes the realization that Roland Barthes had that; ‘the cultural work done in the past by gods and sagas is now done by laundry detergent commercials.” Spar Loop demonstrates the way that the general public is exploited by capitalist structures of society that allow advertisements to excite us in a way that was once done by transcendental powers.
This is not the only place in the exhibition where Barthes theories seemed relevant. For an exhibition that explores the liberation of abstract art I felt that too much emphasis was put on the authors. Alongside each piece was a lengthy description citing the authors past inspirations, although useful, this meant that it was easy to spend more time reading than looking. As Barthes points out ‘To give an Author to a text is to impose upon that text a stop clause, to furnish it with a final signification, to close the writing.” This is precisely what I felt happened here, although the artists exhibited used abstraction as a universal language to cover a variation of themes and mediums, the emphasis put on Malevich’s realization of the Black Square meant that all focus was on the fact that the work was abstract. In this space the works cannot individually grow or adapt to their audience as they have been forced into a curated timeline where there only purpose for display is the fact that they were in some way inspired by a black square, all other purposes are cut off within the walls of the White Chapel Gallery until the 6th of April.
Before entering Paul McCarthy’s latest exhibition at Hauser & Wirth I noticed a sign on the blacked out windows of the gallery warning of the explicit content within. As I have grown up living amongst the capitalism of the modern Western world I shrugged this off, safe in the knowledge that from a young age mass media culture has exposed me to such absurd realities that anything fictional could no longer affect me. When I was to leave the exhibition an hour or so later, the only words of reflection I could write were; ‘shocking to the point of anxiety.’
Although McCarthy’s ongoing appropriation of fairytales is incorporated in the title of this exhibition, WS being a twisted abbreviation of ‘Snow white’, there is little visual inclusion of these comforting symbols of childhood innocence here. Instead McCarthy frames these abject large-scale paintings, with adverts ripped straight from magazines. In ‘WS, Dolce & Gabbana’ a D&G perfume advert stares back at me from it’s lustful airbrushed mask whilst unknowingly being swamped by the down pour of ‘sexy’ feces coming from an obscene lewd act above.
All of the paintings have a strange feel of stagnant voyeurism about them; once past the blacked out windows viewers are exposed to multiple scenes of awkwardly absurd sex acts limply played out by warped figures against pastel backgrounds. Each depiction of niche fetishes is devoid of passion, the characters aren’t sad or happy, they are indifferent, detached but yet seemingly aware of their own bleakness. In contrast, the collaged images of Internet porn tease us with the guilt and disgust that comes with looking at such literal exploitation.
In ‘SC, Luncheon on the Grass’ a young woman stares straight ahead from an A4 print out centred at the top of the composition, upon her head is a festive Santa hat, yet her mouth is agape with the feces smeared across her cheeks. McCarthy parodies this anonymous girl into an ‘updated’ version of Manet’s ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ where sexuality is no longer subtle and secret but crude and cruel, highlighting the state of human compassion in the structure of capitalism we live in today.
It’s not just consumer culture and famous paintings that are sexually parodied into McCarthy’s lurid paintings though. Hollywood celebrities native to McCarthy’s hometown of LA are also dotted around the exhibition, appropriated as embodiments of both fiction and reality amid these chaotic portraits, which imitate the blur of the virtual and literal in our technological society today.
Just as the Modernists revolted against the industrial revolution, here McCarthy revolts against the technological revolution. With his collective use of disturbing sexual imagery and the consumer porn of advertisements alongside the context of fairytales, McCarthy begins to build up a chronological narrative of how basic human instincts are affected by the uprising of technology. He points out that at a young age we learn morality from fictional characters in fairytales so that later on we can learn about sexuality from fictional relationships in porn. Ultimately this exhibition explores truths about the technological advance that we find ourselves in, and how obscenity has become our reality and will remain to be so for as long as our basic human instincts are exploited and manipulated by capitalist systems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.