As a 20-year-old student I am statistically set to boycott the general election in May alongside 2 million other young people. As a nation we are constantly concerned with the fact that young people are not engaged with politics, and that we can’t determine why. The Hayward Gallery’s most recent exhibition ‘History is now: 7 Artists take on Britain’ attempts to highlight the inadequacies of our recent political history, whilst accidentally mirroring the tediousness of understanding and engaging with British politics.
Between the honesty of Christine Voge’s photographs of London’s first women’s refuge centre from 1978, the accumulated documentation of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common from 1983-84 and the loneliness in Mona Hatoum’s film “Measures of distance” from 1988, the general consensus of Jane & Louise Wilson’s section was that politics has failed women. Or at least it would have been had the curators thought to focus their space rather than overwhelm the audience with such a broad history of British politics. In some ways including the multitude of unconnected narratives was effective at highlighting the spectrum of political failures but ultimately this was too much to tackle in such a small space. The shame is that the pieces that focused on women created such a strong narrative, which was only compromised by the inclusion of too many others.
The selection of black and white arts council collection photographs presenting dark truths of the 70’s to the 90’s in comparison to the colourful columns of advertisement collages from the same era in Hannah Starkey’s curation made for an obvious
comparison. It was strange that John Hilliard’s quadrant of photographs “Cause of death” (1974) was tucked in a corner, or that it was shown at all. This piece concisely proves the objectivity of photography as a medium, demonstrating through 4 examples that the way images are cropped, shot and composed can completely change our interpretation of a narrative. Showing this powerful statement next to so many other photographs was jarring, as ultimately Hilliard’s piece renders all other images around it as objective depictions, so therefore it is impossible to read Starkey’s desired curation of propaganda vs. truth in this space.
Despite coming from the madness of Roger Hiorn’s mad cow disease research, it was actually John Akomfrah’s curation that finally made me give up on the exhibition. Consciously choosing to show 17 films with a total running time of over 500 minutes, Akomfrah effectively cuts off communication with the audience before a conversation can even be started. Although inconvenient and aggravating, this does feel rather appropriate. This unrealistic demand echoes in concept what is asked of young people when it comes to politics, where we are asked to vote into a system that time after time proves to us that it doesn’t work.
This exhibition, in parts, does uncover the failures of recent politics and the fact that it coincides with the lead up to the general election is interesting, but if this is so important, where were the politicians? Addressing the public with such an overwhelming depiction of political failures seems pointless when the over riding sentiment of the exhibition is that politics needs to change, not the people.
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.