THIS IS A VOICE – The Wellcome Collection

I enjoy singing little rhythms I make up, I often whistle and I talk to myself out loud without realising, I have a tendency to mimic accents I’m exposed to over a relatively short period of time and I talk so much that I often suffer from throat infections when meeting new people. I had never thought of the sociological, anthropological and psychological implications of all of these small, mundane facts about myself until I had the chance to see the Wellcome Collections early summer exhibition ‘THIS IS A VOICE.’

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My lasting impression of this show is one of refreshment. Finally, an exhibition that does not showcase an array of impressive (to come by) artworks under the guise of education, instead THIS IS A VOICE has education, realisation and appreciation as its core intention for the viewers. The spectrum of objects, images and experiences, curated by the talented Barbara Rodriguez Munoz, guides viewers section by section through a journey that explores the origins, uses and afflictions of the voice and much more. The highlights of this show, of which there are many, were installations by Macus Coates and Imogen Stidworthy, documentary work from Louis Sarno and Katarina Zdjelar along with the specimen of Marianne Harland’s larynx and trachea affected by tuberculosis.

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Imogen Stidworthy’s installation ‘Castrato’ (2012-2016)

Marcus Coates’ installation ‘Dawn Chorus’ is one of the first works in the exhibition and it successfully transforms viewers from talkative gallery goers into experience absorbing subjects. Visitors unsuspectingly enter a dark space with multiple monitors situated at different heights enclosing them into a mysterious centre. Disorientated by the transition into darkness, at first it seems that the installations audio is coming from another part of the exhibition as the bird song is so disconnected from the glitch-y mundane, human, scenes being shown on the screens that separate the dark. In fact, the birdsong is coming from the performers occupying each banal landscape inside the screens, highlighting the eerie similarity between the vocal capabilities of birds and humans.

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Marcus Coates’ installation ‘Dawn Chorus'(2007)

Unlike most large-scale exhibitions, all sound and video work were kept to manageable lengths (excluding Ted Kotcheffs 90 minute film; The human voice). Living in an era where 10-second videos and gifs litter our social home pages and 30-second adverts dominate our TV screens, it is not surprising that our attention spans have been ruined. This is something that I think all galleries should be aware of, no matter what the subject of the exhibit. Most importantly, what this visually hungry populous wants is the whole experience, from start to finish, right now, or nothing at all. This is something that ‘THIS IS A VOICE’ accommodated, with most looping clips being only 2-3 minutes long, making difficult to comprehend ideas much easier to access and swallow.

 

The programme that accompanied the exhibition is also something worth a honourable mention. Containing all the introductions to each of the exhibitions sections, images and useful descriptions of every piece, the programme allows visitors to engage fully in the experience of the exhibition rather than feel the need to take pictures or notes, because everything is already recorded for us in the best possible quality.

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THIS IS A VOICE – installation view

For me, this is what every exhibition should be about; using an array of objects and images to penetrate a single subject. Art works cannot be solely responsible for doing this as they are often subjective, instead artworks should be used to show how scientific fact and experience can be interpreted and shared with an audience. Informative, exciting and relevant to every soul on earth, ‘This is a voice’ taught me; how the voice originally evolved ‘for the purpose of song and social bonding rather than for information exchange’, that accents can be removed and manipulated, about the voice in my head that translates symbols into sounds, and a whole new language.

Performing for the Camera

If you have studied any form of visual arts beyond the restrictive curriculum of A-levels, it is likely that you will have seen half of the images on display in this exhibition already. Between documentation of Yves Klein ‘s ‘Anthropometries of the Blue Period’ process and Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’, everything you would expect from a major Tate show, is exactly where you’d expect it to be. The familiarity of the earlier works on display was not detrimental to the exhibit, instead the amount of works was. In an era where we are being drowned in an over abundance of imagery, it is quite a lot to ask of viewers to engage with 14 rooms worth of photographic images and their stories. Essentially, this was a historical review of performance art and it’s documentation, rather than the effect of rising photographic technologies on the general populations behaviours (as I had initially, obviously foolishly, thought it would be). This is not to say that the exhibition itself wasn’t relevant, as instead it displayed the transformation of the camera from documenter of performance to creator of performance. This transition, in hindsight, does in itself demonstrate and reflect the change in societies behaviour towards the camera in the same time frame. Where previously performances were captured (almost haphazardly) so that they did not dissolve into memories, now it is more common that performances are staged only for the photographic outcome, overlooking the spontaneous experience factor of the earlier images.

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Yves Klein and a model during the performance ‘Anthropometry’ (1960)

For me the most exciting work on display was Martin Parr’s ‘Auto Portraits’, reminiscent of ‘meme culture’ the brightly coloured array of prints was a welcome sight after the hoards of very serious, black and white, high brow art images in the galleries before. Despite its humorous façade, this collection reveals something very interesting about the world in itself. The series of garish images were taken by street photographers and in photo booths in popular locations all over the world, but it is difficult to find anything representing the ‘culture’ each is from. Instead, the interchangeable format of each image exposes a worldwide commonality; tourism everywhere is simply a cheap thrill of kitsch aestheticism and ‘proof’ of experience.

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Martin Parr – Wolverhampton, England (2012) from ‘Autoportraits’

As the exhibition drew to its close, the remaining images were performances solely staged for the camera, bringing us to reflect on the unconscious modern day performances documented on every users Facebook newsfeed. So, quite fittingly, the exhibition ends on work by Amalia Ulman. This consists of prints taken from her Instagram page and some tablets that allow you to browse through all her Instagram posts. As a series the images uploaded to Instagram document the narrative of an innocent young girl moving to LA, her down fall into drugs and later her recovery and newfound appreciation for brunching. This new form of online art is something I, along with many other young artists, am getting excited about. Earlier this year the a famous snap-chat user Andrea Russett’s online following was used by director Hannah Macpherson to create the first snap chat film: http://nofilmschool.com/2016/06/sickhouse-andrea-russett-first-snapchat-movie-horrifying . Although this is a horror film and the final product is not near any league belonging to the work of Ulman, I feel that it is still a better use of online platforms ability to exploit unsuspecting viewers. My problem with Ulman’s ‘Excellences & Perfections’ series is that the Instagram following had no idea that they had been duped because what she posted is, and intentionally so, what we can find on a large majority of Instagram accounts. Although I greatly admire Ulman’s use of social media as a place of performance, as I feel it is now a much more realistic way of critiquing the world than in a gallery, the work is so subtle that it almost doesn’t exist.

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From Amalia Ulman’s Instagram series ‘Excellences and Perfections’

Ultimately this show took me on an educational journey through the historical use of the camera in art, which was beneficial for any art lover. My critique, however, is that it probably only extends to those who have a rather extensive knowledge about art and art history already. This is a shame as with the rise of smart phone cameras and the world dominating ‘selfie culture’, this is an exhibition that should have been able to inform, excite and interest anyone wandering the streets of London.

Subversion 0.5

Between the 2nd and the 4th of December myself and a group of 5 other students studying at UCA Farnham organized an exhibition at hARTslane gallery in New Cross, London. The Private view took place on the evening of the 2nd, the turn out wasn’t huge but we had attendees studying at Goldsmiths and Central Saint Martins and the experience of this project has been invaluable.

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Subversion 0.5 poster

The exhibition space itself was fantastic; it is not your conventional white space, the exposed brickwork and wooden beams created a whole new backdrop and context for our work. This space is affordable and the owners gave us full reign over the space, handing over the keys and leaving us to it. Opening up the gallery space in the mornings was a really exciting experience for me, I felt a pride in actually having done something in the ‘art world’ and it gave me an insight into the responsibilities and organization of artist run spaces.

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Putting up Posters in gallery space

At the Private view I had the opportunity to talk to a second year Fine Art student studying at Central Saint Martins. It was interesting to hear that the tutor time is so limited at the highly regarded UAL institute, comparing this to my own university experience at UCA I felt extremely grateful with my own tutor – student relationships and realized the support I receive is really quite incredible.

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Outside Gallery view

Although there was only 6 of us exhibiting, we managed to comfortably fill the space with our work and unlike our last London show ‘Raw and Unseasoned’ we were able to curate the exhibition in a way that evoked a considerate dialogue between the works. The first room with Laura Rowe, Abi Miller and James Fish’s work had a strong focus on materiality and process. Leading viewers into the second room was my own piece, which continued the conversation of process with my ‘LSTV’ canvas lit up by my muted ‘What’s in my bag’ vlog shown on the painted TV. This second room focused on film presented in a number of different ways; projection and audio, constructed screens and painted monitors. The theme of this curation in the second room talked about technology in a number of different ways, and personally I felt this worked really well.

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Gallery layout and curation

For me the most successful piece of work in this exhibition was John Connor’s piece ‘The life of Nikola Tesler’. Originally John was thinking of displaying this on a monitor but due to technical difficulties he ended up displaying it on the projector with the audio of the film dominating the space. At the Private view this is the piece that got people to stay at the exhibition, as it was durational and we provided seats for people to be able to spend time with the work. As this piece was located in the back room of the gallery, walking in you could here the strange audio narrative of the piece without being able to see it, which drew people into the back room. This piece felt confident and was a great piece of parody narrative that made many viewers laugh and created a relaxed atmosphere in the space, which I think worked really well against my own piece.

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John Connor – ‘The life of Nikola Tesler’

In the recent crit exhibition I felt that the most successful works were those on the show reel and I hope that in the future I could organize a show just focusing on film based work. John and I spoke about the difficulty of a show that consisted solely of film based works, as to have audio playing in the space would be problematic but to expect viewers to put headphones on for each piece is unrealistic. Using a show reel is also an issue because it makes a lot of works really inaccessible, but I hope in the future I can attempt to tackle these curational issues in an exhibition focusing only on film works.

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Installation view

My own piece of work in this show was a little disappointing as I don’t really feel like I pushed myself to create something I was excited about, I only really recycled elements of previous works. I used my ‘What’s in my bag?’ vlog but this time without any cuts, I did speed this piece up by 200%. At this speed you are still able to understand everything that I am saying but my voice is extremely high pitched and just sounds ridiculous. I didn’t have the audio playing out loud as I felt that this highlighted the fact that what I was talking about isn’t worth listening to. I had the monitor showing this footage facing the spotted canvas that I had experimented hanging in different ways. When people spoke about this piece to me they mainly marveled at how long it must have taken me to paint the canvas. This is interesting as durational and frustrating processes is something I work a lot with at the moment to attempt to cure my own boredom.

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At night the light from the monitor screen lit up the canvas, reflecting the way that screens shine on our face when we use our laptops and phones in the dark. From this exhibition I have realized that I need to move away from this canvas and vlog work, which I am doing at the moment but possibly I should have made something brand new for this show so that I could have learnt more about the mode of display of this new work.

For me this exhibition was more about the experience of showing independently from the institution in London, and although we had no spectacular turn out it was an amazing experience. Over these few days not only did I learn about curation, gallery spaces and organizing private views but I experienced commuting and staying in London to open up the gallery in the morning I got a small taste of London life which has changed my perspective on London as a place to live in a surprisingly positive way.

hARTslane gallery is a great place to exhibit and I would really recommend it to any students or upcoming artists that are looking for an affordable space to display their work in London. I hope I do not let the success of this exhibition fade away and use this to propel me to organize more exhibitions next term as I am now incredibly excited after having a taste of what I can achieve in London.

Crit show – LSTV2

For the the second crit show I decided to develop my ideas using the platform of a Vlog parody as I felt that this was possibly one of the most successful works I have done recently. Reflecting on my ideas with a tutor I started thinking about what really interests me and makes me create art. It seems that, although this is not currently shown in my practice, what I am really concerned with personally is mortality. I think it is important to realise and come to terms with our own mortality in order to live more fulfilled lives, and I believe that the excessive technological culture that I live in distracts us from these realisations. In my work I want to attempt to capture moments of realisation – the moments where we really realise the futility of life and the unavoidably empty endings we all face. These moments, although surrounded by mundanity, can transform our perception of the world where the problems we face one day seem ridiculous the next as we slowly transform from one mind-set to another.

As the Internet is a big part of this study, I felt that it was most appropriate for me to develop the idea of a vlog parody. I started by editing this in many different ways; having audio layered over one another into a building repetitive rhythm, layering particular moments over each other to create strange movements and sounds and also choosing moments within the 22 minute video to leave in whilst cutting the rest out but leaving the footage the same length. I found the negative space that was created by using this last technique interesting, as I thought about how viewers would interact with this work when it was displayed in a space. Initially it may seem that the TV is just blank, or not working but strange snippets of noise would jump into the space – creating confusion until the viewer happens to see and hear the video at the same time.

I began experimenting with this use of negative space in the video much more until I eventually came up with a mathematical way of editing that left the content that was seen up to chance. I have realised that this is a recurring theme in my work, as I always feel much more comfortable leaving decisions about aesthetics up to chance, in this way the work can relate to the random nature of the world in a more organic way.

The moments of action in this edit were mostly one second in their duration; not allowing the viewer anytime to grasp what is really going on, which I feel reflects the abstract way that humans have to get to grips with this existence. The cuts in-between these moments varied mathematically, for instance the first second of action came in at 1.00 minute into the footage, the second at 0.57 the third at 0.54 etc. Until it gets into the very middle of the video the cuts are very spread out, with most of the video consisting of complete nothingness.

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second performance film still

To contrast and also support this nihilism in the work I filmed another performance. This time I turned the ‘LSTV’ painting around so the strange textures underneath could be seen, covered my face in white paint and rocked back and forth chanting ‘We’re all going to die’ whilst continuing to rub paint over the rest of my body. This was a performance that I had not really planned but instead felt quite compelled to make one day when I got home and realized no one else was in. Whilst recording I felt almost out of my body due to the repetitive nature of the performance and there was certainly a disconnection between what I was saying and doing and what I really felt at the time.

In the final edit of this experiment I cut this footage into the climax of the cuts, editing at a 10th of a second in-between clips. Without the black space between clips this gave the impression that the different audios and performances were happening simultaneously, and through this strangeness, for the first time the words and actions were able to be understood with an almost clarity.

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Editing construction

Because this video is attempting to deal with the concept of the 2D digital world affecting this 3D reality I decided to try and integrate this into the presentation of the work. Instead of having this video put onto the show reel I decided to show it on a bulky monitor on a plinth that was at such a height that the together with the TV it would come to my height. In some ways this made the piece more of a self-portrait than was intended. Because of the amount of time that the video is just blank, the TV set unintentionally became a mirror due to its reflective screen and ergonomic height. Before viewers had heard anything come from the TV set, this is what initially drew them towards it, creating a reflection of the narcissism that happens within the footage, but still I would rather viewers were reflecting on my work rather than themselves aesthetically.

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Reflection in monitor

To show the physicality of the digital dimension creeping into the 3rd dimension I decided to paint both plinth and TV set. I gave both layers of white and on top recreated the pattern of the canvas used as the backdrop for the vlog performance. Repeating this painting process really bored me, I did not measure it out properly and was not as particular with the dots as I was before – this meant I created many more mistakes and by the time I was half way through painting the plinth I felt so frustrated that I gave up and started painting at random. On the TV this process was a little more controlled but I still gave both monitor and plinth another layer of white to conceal the mistakes and textures made underneath – but I did not want to get rid of them completely, this layer felt like an important part of the work but in hindsight it was unnecessary. This use of white paint covering up imperfections underneath is something that is also echoed in the content of the video with the performance of covering my face and body with white paint, I only really half understand the significance of this right now and I feel like it has something to do with the nihilism that I am clearly interested in.

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Installation view

I would say that this piece has been unsuccessful, but despite this I am still (if not more) excited about the concepts that are emerging in my work. On reflecting on my work in the crit exhibition I have realized that there are far too many contrasts in this work. Firstly, the contrast between the 2D and the 3D which I attempted to make by painting the plinth and TV to reflect the setting of the footage. Secondly, the contrast between ‘nothing’ and ‘something’ – having the long tedious pauses in between flashes of incomprehensible speech or action. Thirdly there is the contrast between the two different performances, where I attempted to subvert the narcissistic mundane with a personal and real realization about mortality which creates an absurdity in the work. I feel that I need to really think about these contrasts and what is actually relevant for what I am trying to do with my work as currently it feels over crowded with ideas.

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Installation view

In crit feedback I have been told that this piece is too confusing. There were questions about why objects had been painted and what the content of the video itself was and I felt that I had to do much too explaining for this piece to have been a success. There is obviously a tendency to become bored with looking at a black screen whilst waiting for something to happen, and even if this may be integral to the ideas I am trying to get across about what we watch online it is not engaging for the viewers, and therefore it fails. I was told that it felt as though the work was giving significance to banality, which I feel demonstrates how confusing the work has become as my aim is to give significance to moments of enlightenment and almost mock the comfort we feel in life’s mundanity.

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Installation view

I have been told that I need to deal with my material and subject in a more direct way, I should think about appropriating existing YouTube vlogs rather than just creating more. Or even, to become more understanding of this subject begin dressing up and performing scripts of some of these vlogs, trying to imitate them completely. From writing down this reflection I have realized that I know what my work is about, but I am just not communicating it effectively. The lack of artists and theory’s that I feel I could link to my work or talk about in conjunction to my work shows that this is an area that I need to focus on now to hopefully create more accessible work that viewers can relate to directly, without confusion.

Oscan Murillo, ‘binary function’ at David Zwirner Gallery 10.10.15 – 20.11.25

Having only graduated from his MA at the Royal College of London in 2012 Oscar Murillo already has an impressive international presence in the art world. Since graduating three years ago he has had work shown at the Saatchi, been included in the MoMA’s ‘Forever now’ show earlier this year and now he has his first solo show ‘binary function’ at David Zwirner’s London Gallery.

tea, HSBC, (grill?), 2013-2015
tea, HSBC, (grill?), 2013-2015

This exhibition is dominated by painting, but not in any conventional sense. Most paintings in this exhibition defy predictable painting methods with many canvases made from what the viewer can imagine is multiple paintings, cut and then sewn together to make whole collaged canvases. Although the materiality of canvas can be seen throughout the exhibition, this show is not exclusive to painting but also incorporates drawing, print, sound, sculpture, installation and film as an example of Murillo’s diverse practice.

L-R: catalyst #3, 2015, material alignment #18, 2013-2015,100% vita, 2014-2015, catalyst, 2015
L-R: catalyst #3, 2015, material alignment #18, 2013-2015,100% vita, 2014-2015, catalyst, 2015

In the opening room of the exhibition viewers will find 4 unusual canvases displayed at such close proximity to one another that from afar one might think they were a whole, but each canvas is named individually creating a universal language between techniques and materiality. Around the corner is a new video installation of Murillo’s where the audience is invited to sit in a mis-match of plastic garden chairs to watch footage of what appears to be a street party. These seats are replications of those seen in the footage, creating a physical connection between viewer and the people that are far away in the time and place that this video captures. The audio of this installation varies between on site sounds and compositional music that changes the dynamic and narration of the piece as it alternates between the two. This audio permeates throughout the whole exhibition extending the narrative to the right now of the exhibition space.

meet me! Mr. Superman, 2013-2015
meet me! Mr. Superman, 2013-2015

On the first floor viewers will be hit with the strong smell of paint and the sight of multiple black canvases that are hung, piled and strewn around the space. Again these canvases use Murillo’s signature technique of being sewn together on a large scale, allowing viewers to appreciate the grand scale of their production. Viewers are forced to walk over these black paintings, creating delicate outlines of their dusty footprints on the black fabric. This interaction creates an unusual relationship between the work and viewer as our physical presence marks and develops the patchwork fabric pieces that are reminiscent of the works displayed on the walls in front of us.

First floor installation view
First floor installation view

In this exhibition Murillo merges the boundaries between painting, sculpture and installation. The curation of this show creates a tension between the intentional and the accident, as both are included on par with one another. Murillo’s works have a sense of ‘more’ beyond them, demonstrated directly in the way he crops and sews canvases, Murillo denies us of viewing all of one but instead a part of many, challenging the viewer with this inclusive/exclusive painting stlye.

Tetsumi Kudo at Hauser & Wirth 22.09.15 – 21.11.15

Walking along the sophisticated streets of Saville Row where humanity hurries from one grey interior to the next, one does not expect to walk through the doors of Hauser & Wirth for their eyes to be transformed into those of a child. The vivid green that curator Oliver Renaud Clément has used to backdrop the most recent show of Tetsumi Kudo’s work, turns the conventional white gallery space into one big installation, merging all pieces together into a playground of diverse colour and absurdity.

Installation view
Installation view

This AstroTurf installation evokes the desire to interact, all Kudo’s works in this exhibition are so physical and playful in their execution it is hard to resist the urge to touch and play in this space. These feelings are very much internalised by the static silence of the transformed gallery, forcing quiet contemplation of the works whilst suppressing the urge to gallop and giggle. This is quite relevant as Kudo’s work focuses on these tensions created between nature and the man made. The melting plastic flowers in his artificial gardens signify the artists realisation that “with the pollution of nature comes the decomposition of humanity” whilst simultaneously talking about humanity’s morphing relationship with technology and mass production.

Human Bonsai - Freedom of Deformity - Deformity of Freedom 1979
Human Bonsai – Freedom of Deformity – Deformity of Freedom 1979

There are several sections in this exhibition, from these free standing gardens where man made materials morph to create rows of bonsai trees mixed with phallic forms, to Perspex structures that home artificial eco systems, and oversized dice that contain melting parts of humanity. Each series presented here imagines a post-apocalyptic world where a nuclear attack has cultivated an unrecognisably synthetic nature caused by humanity’s negligence.

Cultivation of Nature & People Who Are Looking at It, 1970-1971
Cultivation of Nature & People Who Are Looking at It, 1970-1971

Kudo’s use of boxes demonstrates the way we live our contemporary lives, how we rely on architectural interiors that simultaneously protect and trap us. In these interiors we stare at electronic boxes that transport us into artificial worlds of colour that help us to forget the reality of nature, much like the way that this exhibition lets us forget about the cold streets and suits just beyond the windows of Hauser & Wirth. Kudo’s regular use of dice presents natural systems of chance but contrasted with the artificial colours used to realise these boxes we may begin to think about the absurdity of humanity’s ever growing fixation with dominating chance in order to adapt nature to benefit our own unforgiving agendas.

Garden of the Metamorphosis in the Space Capsule, 1968
Garden of the Metamorphosis in the Space Capsule, 1968

Growing up in post-war Japan Kudo understood the brutal reality of humanity’s conceivable evil, and later moving to Paris he was struck by Europe’s ‘’Individualist outlook and eager adoption of mass production.” Ultimately this show of Kudo’s political but still highly aesthetic work, although made 50-40 years ago, seems even more relevant today. In this contemporary society even more dominated by technology then it was in Kudo’s time this exhibition gives space to reflect on our own claustrophobic lives where we naïvely believe we can survive inside these aesthetic simulated worlds that we hold on to so tightly.

Anj Smith; ‘Phosphor on the Palms’ at Hauser & Wirth 22.09.15 – 21.11.15

In terms of contemporary art, the exhibition “Phosphor on the Palms” is a rarity. Entering the white walls of Hauser & Wirth you will notice a certain emptiness that dominates the space. Naturally this pushes the viewer towards the small-scale oil paintings that are displayed systematically across the gallery space, letting us discover the infinity of detail and realist mysticism that awaits us there. This is Anj Smith’s biggest solo show to date with over 20 works made over the past three years.

Installation view
Installation view

Smith’s paintings guide the viewer along a path through the gallery space; each is hung at a perfect height for closer inspection. Within these compositions one can easily be transported into another dimension where every intricacy is executed in uncompromised perfection. Despite the beauty of overwhelming detail these paintings hold, they are just as undeniably nightmarish. With your back turned away from the center of the space your eyes flit from one piece to the next, and your feet can do nothing but follow.

Letters of the Unconcious
Letters of the Unconscious

Although visually similar, the themes that these paintings explore are extensive; using iconography Smith explores, fashion, nature, consumerism, gender, isolation and many more all in a dream like hyperrealism. In an exhibition as rare as this in it’s traditional craftsmanship, there is obviously a continued conversation about painting and technology. Smith has said herself “There’s something about painting now that, because we have so much technology, we don’t have an essential need for. I’m deciding to sit there for hours daily just to create one image.”

Faune
Faune

This is not done in vain. The works in this exhibition make the awe that was evoked by grand oil paintings in the past, comprehensible to contemporary audiences. Not only this, but unlike most contemporary painters Smith avoids expressing her relationship with reality in a visually abstract way. Instead, she takes abstract concepts and transforms them into magical realism. Smith does not attempt to simplify these abstractions but instead embraces them ‘in all their complexities’, in a way that allows the viewer to reflect on the truly absurd times we are living in.

Uncurtaining the Night
Uncurtaining the Night

These surreal landscapes and portraits do not only sit on the wall as a window into another world, but throughout the exhibition they gradually begin to permeate into the third dimension. Starting with ‘Uncurtaining the night’ a viewer with a keen eye will notice that very small reliefs of paint have been left to dry at the bottom of the composition, creating the physical texture of a forest floor. Smith’s painting seep more and more into the physical world until we are faced with ‘The excreted’, which is so small in scale and so heavily caked in paint that it barely functions as a physical painting and becomes almost fully sculptural.

The Excreted
The Excreted

This show is as diverse in its readings as you imagine it to be, there are monkeys crawling out of paintings along side sad, sunken eyes, scaled creatures and symbols of high fashion. No carefully composed image in this exhibition talks about the same subject as the last, each creates it’s own individual paradigm that parodies everyday consumer culture into alien landscapes, reflecting the multiple aspects of our ever-changing contemporary society.

‘LSTV’ and development of work from September – October

As an induction into my Second Year studio unit, in September we were given a project to respond to a piece of Art on display in London, in order to change our way of working whilst expanding our knowledge of artists. I was given Sigmar Polke’s ‘Untitled (Square 2)’, 2003, which is displayed at the Tate Modern in the room ‘Painting after technology’. Although I usually try to avoid looking at traditional methods of painting, within this composition I found an interest in the contrast between fluid and the static because of the layers of different painting technique. The free flowing paint caught under a systematically printed image, and the colour palette of this painting had a great affect on me, I found the metallic and yet dulled hues soothing and complimentary whilst simultaneously dark, generating a sense of mysticism.

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Square 2) 2003

From my initial research I became interested in the philosophy of Metaphysics, as I found that in its theories it contains questions I have often asked myself. The basic questions of Metaphysics helped me form my first response to Polke’s work as they gave me a basic reason to make art. These questions are: 1. Ultimately what is there? 2. What is it like? To start generating work I tried to answer these questions visually. My initial response consisted of a black and white macro image of moss, enlarged onto 16 A4 pages. Onto this I projected colour footage of the moss and it’s surroundings. In this way I tried to answer the questions like this; 1. What is there? This piece of moss. 2. What is it like? It is green, growing in a wall, there are bushes growing above it etc. This idea of static and movement was clearly inspired by the layers in Polke’s painting, whilst still trying to visualize the merging of reality and then humans perception of reality. The projection onto the image made it difficult for either element can be understood at all but when they were separated they can both be seen clearly. I find this confusion caused by the layering of the objective and subjective over one another to be an interesting idea – is it impossible for human’s to objectively observe the world around us because we are a part of it?

Initial response to Polke and Metaphysics research
Initial response to Polke and Metaphysics research

I then went on to look at the works of Gustav Metzger, Stan Brakhage, Len Lye and Oskar Fishinger. The contrast between the technological and the organic is what drew me towards Metzger’s work, in particular ‘Liquid Crystal Environment’ (1965/2005). The way his work naturally transforms over the duration of it is display is something that I feel is central to my own way of making work. Not only is his work transformative, but also it is politically engaged and deals with the environmental whilst being extremely physical in its presence.

Gustav Metzger, Liquid Crystal Environments, 1965/2005

Research into Stan Brakhage led me to experiment with out of date film, making gifs with a Nishika camera, creating multiple still images into ‘moving moments’ of distorted colour. I also experimented with digitally manipulating photographs damaged by a broken camera, transforming the colours and visibility within the composition.

Stan Brakhage, Film from ‘Mothlight’, 1963
Nishika gif experiemnts with expired film
Nishika gif experiemnts with expired film

Play with colour and animation led me to look at Len Lye’s films. I was instantly immersed in Lye’s use of repetition and bright block colours. This interest then led me to ‘An Optical poem’ by Oskar Fishinger. The circular forms pulsating and transforming took me out of reality for a few minutes, absorbed me into the screen on which I watched it, creating a mental transgression into the bright and infinite technological world.

Photo manipulation from damaged film
Photo manipulation from damaged film

Len Lye, Rainbow Dance [still], 1936
The colour and forms in these animations and the influence of Polke led me to experiments with paintings. I generated these by making multiple backgrounds at once and then creating layers of varying colour palates and textures on top. After all the layers had dried I would attempt to make sense of the free flowing paint with ink drawings on top. From this I found a colour palette that I wanted to work with; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This started off as a visual interest and then transformed into a conceptual process. Using the acrylic versions of the printer inks to talk about tensions between technology and painting.

Paint experiments with colour, composition and texture
Paint experiments with colour, composition and texture

I was then recommended to look into the MoMA’s 2015 exhibition ‘Forever Now’. This introduced me to the term ‘Atemporal’ which describes ‘The strange state of the world where due to the Internet, all times now exist at once.’ This helped me think about the cross overs between the tradition of painting and the immediacy of digital/man made imagery. I then looked at different ways of painting and began experimenting contrasting these highly artificial colours with natural marks. I would use the negative space of a burnt piece of paper as a template, transferring the paint onto the paper with a sponge to create delicate but sharp edged forms. I also experimented with layering paints to recreate the spectrum of colours that create images out of a digital printer.

Experiments with Yellow, Cyan and magenta using burnt paper as stencil
Experiments with Yellow, Cyan and magenta using burnt paper as stencil

This influence in our perception of colour and the spectrum bought me to Olafur Eliasson and his study of colour. From his work I became more interested in installation space and was reminded of my interest of audience’s participation as a key aspect of the work.

Olafur Eliasson, Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

To develop my work for the October Crit show I began painting in block colours focusing on the form of the circle as this allowed me to easily create patterns and illusions. Reading Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of perception’ was also a great influence in my work at this time, especially where he describes the effect of bright colour on our ‘antipodes’; “Bright pure colours are characteristic of the other world”. Despite this Huxley evaluates only a page later “by it’s amazing capacity to give us too much of the best things, modern technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials.” I felt a real connection to this analysis of colour in the everyday as I have often thought about why we do not feel the complete awe at colour and composition that our ancestors would have done.

Pattern and form experimentation with circles of block colour.
Pattern and form experimentation with circles of block colour.

Through reflection of this research I decided to make a ergonomically scaled installation that explored painting, colour, technology, the kitsch and human experience of forced perception. This is where ‘LSTV’ was formed. This consisted of an interior and exterior made from Acrylic and pencil on Canvas, black out fabric, Wood, AstroTurf, TV monitor and a Glass mannequin head.

The exterior consisted of a pattern made from the colours Magenta, Cyan, Yellow and Black. This pattern of dot painting had to be strategically planned before it was painted, I first had to plan it digitally on photoshop before I could start physical work. This process echoes that of Michael Williams digital and handmade paintings, whom I found in the ‘Forever Now’ catalogue. I was particularly interested in Williams’ choice of always creating flat imagery because of “the fact that he usually encounters artworks on the Internet or in books, rather than in person.” I wanted to subvert this in my ideas as I wanted to be sure that the viewer was completely present to view my work and in this way it would be impossible to photograph the piece, I felt it was important that the work could only be experienced truly when you are in front of it.

Michael Williams, work from ‘Forever now’ Exhibition at MoMA, 2015
Surface of Canvas painted in Acrylic
Surface of Canvas painted in Acrylic

Again, this work was very physical, the 5×5 meter canvas was much bigger than me so had to be made in stages, using hand drawn grids to guide me to where I should print each individual circle (applied with 10x10cm sponge). These pencil marks on the canvas were not removed once the paint had dried as I felt they became part of the work, these artificial dots sit between man made and mass production and the pencil lines highlighted this tension along with the reality of human error. From afar the canvas still looks as though it may have been mechanically made, but as the viewer gets closer to see the interior of the installation this pretence is abolished.

Canvas detail
Canvas detail

The ideas of over exposure to technology dulling our minds to a point where the ‘other world’ that Huxley references throughout his Mescalin experience is no longer accessible, is where the assemblage formed for the interior of my installation. Here I combined a glass mannequin head, Plastic grass and an old TV monitor stuck on white noise. These objects are all man made but particularly unaesthetic. They are objects whose function is to be the backdrop for other man made aesthetics but when placed all together they create a very bleak assemblage manufactured from evolving technology. This interior installation could only be viewed from one hole cut out of the canvas disguised as one of the painted black circles. This forced the viewer to interact with the piece physically, circling the structure to search for the hole, and then bending down to look through the it. This was followed by a mental interaction in the viewer where the contrast between interior and exterior aimed to transport the viewer to a very different place than the room/time and place that they were viewing my piece in.

Initial experiment with 'technological' assemblage
Initial experiment with ‘technological’ assemblage

In the crit feedback the comments revolved around the effective contrast of the bright and positive exterior and dark and disturbing interior, and how this could symbolize the transformation from childhood to adult hood. The disguise of the hole within the painted canvas also created a real moment of realization within the piece, a realization that there is ‘more’ and that this piece is not static. I was also told that my piece reminded people of advertisement because of the bright colours and positivity of the exterior from far away in comparison to the point where first the hand drawn lines and the imperfections of the circles can be seen, followed by the dark and bleak interior.

I feel that this piece was more successful in its interaction with the audience than ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’ because of its much larger physical presence. Its height meant that viewers couldn’t see over it, making it obstructive and forcing the viewer to confront it. But I do feel it was also too confusing, there were a lot of things in this piece to try to pick apart, also the disguise of the viewing point made it a secret when the work is meant to be for the viewer, and many did not know that it was there. I am pleased with this idea of transformation that occurs in the work, transporting the viewer from reality to an interior of strangeness using installation and contrast. The change of physical perception is something that I am going to work with again due to the success of this piece, the hole in the canvas allowed me complete control over the physical perception that the viewer had of the piece. Ultimately I want my work to allow moments of realization and moments of change in my audience by giving them a physical space of reflection. I want work to talk about human experience, the fears of death, realizations of something ‘bigger than us’ and other overwhelming moments of realization we face in our lives. These transformative and scary moments can sometimes only be consoled with humour and the absurd, which I feel is also very present in my work. I feel I would be happier about this work if it talked more about the political and environmental and had more influence from the audience. The idea that the audience could physically change outcome of the work was what was more successful about ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’, it gives the work a sense of immediacy and ephemerality to it, whereas ‘LSTV’ forced the viewers to be more present but did not completely include them.

'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015
'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015
'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015

Recent work – Ebb and flow

My initial inspirations for my most recent work has stemmed from my documentations of Farnham park from October into December. After capturing this beautiful and vast location through its natural transitions from Autumn into Winter and day into night I started interpreting these natural phenomena’s into home made ice sculptures. My mould for these sculptures was simply a shallow bowl that came from a broken desk lamp but I chose this particular form as it resembled a perfect puddle and as the weather has gotten colder I have found myself fascinated with the way puddles freeze and the debris that gets suspended in them momentarily. I experimented with taking three of these sculptures, each one representing different times of day, into Farnham park to photograph and film recording in their natural surroundings but I found that the weather was far too cold and they barely melted. I then saw that it would be much more interesting to document how they melted through the marks made by them rather than a time lapse. So instead I got a canvas and left the sculptures to melt on it one at a time. The marks made with these sculptures were very subtle as I only added small amounts of water colours and ink to slightly alter the colours of the ice. My goal with this piece was to create layers of marks to represent the ongoing changes in nature and I wanted to use the canvas to capture my interpretations of these changes, just as so many have done before me. For a recent exhibition I decided to repeat this process but this time use only paint and use it thickly within the sculpture in order to make more striking marks.

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Initial ice sculpture experiments photographed in Farnham park (December 2014)
Close up of ice sculpture and paint before it started to melt
Close up of ice sculpture and paint before it started to melt
Ice sculpture melting in the exhibition space (February 2015)
Ice sculpture melting in the exhibition space (February 2015)

In this exhibition I found that many people were confused by the materials I had used before the ice started melting, initially people thought I had placed a dome of brightly coloured resin onto a plinth, then they thought it may be jelly because of the colour, only when they touched it did they realise that it was ice. It helped that I had found a plinth that fitted my canvas perfectly as it made the fact that this was a painting quite discreet and left people to focus on the performance of states changing from one to another, which I hoped would be the most important thing about the piece. I feel that mainly this piece was positively received by my peers and tutors, with many of them commenting that it was the simplicity of the idea that made the piece successful. Useful criticisms were about my choice of colour palette, the lurid green was quite distracting and didn’t talk to the audience about nature or the history of painting as it was meant to, and also about the fact that the canvas was not clean before the ice started melting on it. I had chosen to use the same canvas as before as I liked this idea of adding layers to represent the ongoing changes in nature but I now see that a blank canvas would have been much more appropriate for the aesthetics of this piece. Another concern raised by my peers was how the piece would be displayed after the exhibition. There was concern that the canvas would be put up on the wall alongside other paintings and would then only be talked about as an automatic painting. I shared this concern so after the exhibition I dismantled my piece and found other ways it could be shown after the event of the ice melting, separating the canvas from the plinth and the plinth from the marks made by the melting water on the floor. This may be a more interesting way of showing this piece in an exhibition after an ice piece has melted, as it forces the viewer to piece together what has happened and realise that all objects are connected by an act of nature, just as everything is on earth. This is primarily what I want to talk about with art, but I think this could be done with more interesting objects which would make this idea clearer. Another way of presenting the work after the ice had melted which I found successful was taking close up pictures of the marks made on the canvas. These photos made the paint and canvas unrecognisable so that the focus is solely on the intricate and strange marks that was made by the combinations of natural process and paint, these images are so abstract that it is impossible to guess what they are of, but make for aesthetically pleasing images that show off the beauty of nature.

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Close up of canvas detail
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Close up of canvas detail

From here I want to continue to make work that talks about the constant transitions of nature, from day into night, winter to spring and life to death and become more in touch with the flow of nature and hopefully build up an understanding relationship with these natural events that I cannot get from our capitalist society and share them with my audience.

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.