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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Between August – September I began work on very different ideas to the content of my previous work. During a trip through European capitals I started thinking about the Kitsch and the acceptance of throwaway culture in Western Society, especially the typical plastic souvenirs that haunt us in every agreeably nice place in the world. With the rise of ‘selfie sticks’ and the increasingly advanced technology of the smart phone camera I also found an interest in the way we treat photography now. It seems that now the photograph is so accessible we feel the need to take photos of every experience to prove that it was ours, as though if we take a photo we are some how experiencing the moment more intimately than if we did not. (These thoughts were also inspired by reading; John Berger: Ways of seeing, over this period.) From watching people take photos constantly without actually LOOKING at the things they were taking photos of I started thinking about how the photograph is now how we feel present in the world around us. We have generated a dysmorphic relationship with our surroundings. Our excessive photo taking distracts us from our sense of really ‘being’ in a place, an experience or a moment. This sense of being has become objectified in the photographic data of an Iphone, an Instagram post and Facebook profile pictures. We cannot be without instantly proving we’ve been.
This is the foundation of ideas that formed my piece ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME.” The idea was a collaboration between myself and friend KAYA FEHMI, whose photograph is included in the piece. Our idea was to have a large scale image made into badges and attached to a denim hanging so that people could see and then interact with the image, being able to take a piece of it with them, until all the badges have gone. Through this process the piece aimed to challenge the audience to enjoy it whilst simultaneously destroying it, mirroring humans relationship with nature and the environment.
For me, the importance of the denim for the background of the photograph was to demonstrate the culture of the Western
world. By taking second hand denim jeans and cutting them up to make a flat sheet I was taking something practical and useful and making it functionless, as I feel the buyers of plastic souvenirs do to natural recourses. The use of badges on denim also took inspiration from Peter Blake’s: ‘Self portrait with badges’, a physical representation of his painted collages.
I found the large scale making of this piece to be very physical, it became in itself a ‘mass production’ of plastic objects as I attempted to make 486 badges by hand. The badges themselves were made from plastic poker chips, electric tape and safety pins with photographic paper stuck on with double sided sticky tape. I enjoyed the physicality of this making process along with the sewing of the denim by hand. This idea of handmade but ‘culturally disrupting’ objects echoes the process of Ai Weiwei’s work, especially his sunflower seeds due to their initial interaction with viewers in the Turbine Hall.
From a collective perspective the badges create a whole aesthetic image, which is about distinguishable. The moment a badge is removed it transforms from part of a whole to a bland combination of grey and white pixels, making it as worthless as a €4.50 souvenir that loses it’s value and meaning as soon as you remove it from its surroundings.
The photograph used is of the Hungerford Bridge’s ‘Skateboard Graveyard’ by Southbank. The image appropriately documents an accumulation of old and broken skateboards that have been abandoned onto the bridge support, an island of consumer waste in the middle of the Thames. So to stage the interaction between audience and piece we decided to take it there, inviting people to take a badge rather than to take a photo, to be present beyond the screen of their phones. This location did not work for this piece as it was at an awkward angle for people to interact with it, so we later moved it opposite Southbank skate park, this change of location turned the piece into an almost-memorial for the fate of the on looking skateboards.
The expectation of public interaction with the piece was where it failed, it seemed that people were too awkward or just plain uninterested to interact. I believe now that the piece would only have been able to create this interactive presence with the viewer if it had been much larger. It was very easy to ignore, due to its height and placement at the side of the pathway. If it had been bigger and able to stand independently it would have been impossible for people to ignore and possibly less embarrassing for those who were interested but shy. Interestingly a lot of people asked how much the badges were and were confused that they were being given away. At some points I felt that there would have actually been more interest if the badges were for sale rather than for free. Possibly at this stage it was a little over ambitious to expect people to interact physically with my work but I feel that the majority of my ideas came across successfully here and I am happy with the visual outcome and repetitive processes that it developed.
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.