Sunday, 5 December 2010
The theme of Liverpool's 2010 Biennial was "Touched." Lewis Biggs, the aristic director, explains on the Biennial's website that "Touched" was a very simple common philosophy behind all the artworks displayed. "Touched presented art with emotional impact. Art that not only gained our attention but that moved us, motivated us, allowed us to find a way to change ourselves. Art without emotional force is art without intellectual power." Biggs believes that the artworks displayed as part of Touched spoke to all demographics and cultures, "without meditation, without the intercession of saleroom or celebrity."
Some works really fitted this brief, I felt. Carol Rama's paintings in the Bluecoat had a very raw, honest sense of emotion to them, and didn't require too intellectual a response from the viewer to understand them. Similarly, Nicholas Hlobo's "Ndize" was purely about the raw feeling of the experience, and was one of the highlights of the Biennial. The Bluecoat also displayed "Music's Too Good For Pigeons," however, an obtuse and indulgent work that didn't, by any stretch of the imagination, qualify as accessible and universally capable of "touching" its audience.
Elsewhere, "One Year Performance" by Tehching Hsieh was very accessible and poignant, with a very open, yet acute depiction of the human condition, and "My Voice Would Reach You" spoke of the universally relevant themes of family and estrangement. Andy Holden's "Three Short Works in Time" employed live string arrangements in a convincing attempt to move viewers, and Phase 5 on Seel Street had a number of works, such as "Murmur" by Ray Lee or "Pool of Voices" by Phil Jeck, that could carry messages to audiences of nearly any background or culture.
I felt though that for every work that adhered to the "Touched" ethos, there was a vague or irrelevant work to match it. "The Marx Lounge" in Rapid, a collection of all the written works by or about Carl Marx, surely couldn't resonate with non-Western audiences as strongly, or allow a viewer to form a meaningul response "without meditation". "Trill-ogy" by Ryan Trecartin, although hugely successful, would bombard and confuse every viewer, but whether it would "touch" every viewer is questionable. "Sunny Side Up," a mural on Fleet Street, deliberately hid its subversive meaning in a code-like language of line and form.
The Tate probably failed the most comprehensively in how it engaged with the Biennial, displaying two obtuse and academic works that were much more likely to puzzle an audience than move them. "Embryology" especially felt like a lazy effort, and I wonder whether it would have been on display if it hadn't cost Tate so much money to buy. Similarly, I suspected A Foundation's championing of Sachiko Abe was more about displaying their ability to procure a popular name from the art sphere than engaging with the Biennial. Abe's definition of her work invites an intellectual response much more than an emotional one.
Ultimately then, 2010's Biennial was a mixed success. Some works seemed almost designed to leave an audience cold and confused, while others were indeed tied together by an accessibility and emotional candour that made them truly universal. The business aspect of the art world, that Biggs proclaimed himself as attempting to shun, did make itself apparent at some points in the Biennial, and whether some artists were chosen for their relevancy over their repute is questionable. In terms of accurately reflecting the state of contemporary art practise as a whole though, and as a functioning showcase for some exciting new artists and artworks, the Biennial had some definite successes.
Whether the Biennial will affect my own artistic practise is something I find very hard to judge. Influences tend to show themselves much later after I've taken them in, and usually after I've made whatever artwork they may relate to. That said, I've recently started making video pieces, which is a departure from my typically very illustrative output. I've also began to think of my work as needing an appropriate public forum, which is something that the Biennial is quite likely to have affected.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
New Contemporaries was a degree show of recent graduates of art in A Foundation. The first piece I saw when I entered was the work "Cut" by Kristian de la Riva - a graphic, violent animation in which a number of self-destructive acts were performed by a simply rotoscoped individual. I found the work very hard to watch despite it being made cartoonish, I sense because the technique used was made to look like it was a traced version of a real act. The work found a humour in the depiction of pain, which is something I can identify with in my own work.
Melis van der Berg's enigmatic "The Orb Project" was a suspended metal orb that contained an odd mix of items. The piece to me seemed to represent a workspace perhaps belonging to an artist, the cage representing a sort of barrier separating the outside world from the artist. The barrier is tangible and solid, yet porous and free-flowing. "Alethia" by Darren Harvey-Regan was a small sculpture of a bird on a perch looking at a supposed mirrored image of itself, which actually transpired to be a print when the viewer got closer. The piece had a wit to it but also a sense of loneliness and sadness.
Joel Wyllie's works were the best of the exhibition, for me. They had a visual identity that was quite unlike anything else in the room. They were boldy depicted diagrams of conflict, in very boiled down sculptural or illustrative form. The works had simple compositions, as a child might arrange in play, although their tone was very distinct and artistic. It was the quirky, cleanly outlined nature of the work that I found really novel and intriguing.
Tate's collection inspired by "Play" included this installation artwork by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. These boats and structures were all made by Liverpool families and schoolchildren. I liked that the viewer had to walk through the work on quite a rickety, irregular platform and look down onto the imagined environment. The naivety and simple innocence of the work was very pleasant, and it achieved a very distinct presence through a commodity of means. The structures were fantastical and, I felt, quite aspirational.
"Smear" by Franz West was a large , twisted blue sculpture that could be interacted with if the viewer wished. The work, to me, functioned much better as a bench than a piece of art. I found Otto Muehl's paintings similarly non-affecting and samey. "1 WITHOUT" by Wannes Goetschalckx was a more interesting piece. The work was a number of boxes with video screens showing the artist performing everyday actions loosely related to captivity. I believe the work may represent an aspect to modern living where we are all trapped by shared rituals and emotions. There was a frustration to the piece which I thought was quite unique amongst the other works.
"Embryology" by Magdalena Abakanowicz is displayed as part of the Biennial theme of "Touched." A series of cloth shapes are scattered around the space. I think the work may have alluded to cells and a sort of scientific visual identity, with the sack objects looking almost like growing cell clusters. I don't think this would have occurred to me had I not known the works title, and the atmosphere in the space was very flat and drab. Perhaps it was the works allusion to landscape, a format I find quite uninteresting, that made it hard for me to engage with. I do share Abakanowicz's interest in the cell and its representation however.
Carol Rama's works were some of the most appropriate to the Biennial theme of Touched, I felt. Rama's visceral, naive style of painting reminded me in some ways of artists like Francis Bacon or Nitsch; biting in their humanity. They were intimate and very personal, with an angst and intensity that I try to emulate in my own works. The themes of sexuality and confusion are also relevant to my practise, as well as religious allusions. A work I particularly enjoyed was a simple watercolour on worn paper, with a web of plastic eyes forming an unusual cloud shape. This mix of ostensibly rudimentary execution but deep thematic content is what I found interesting, and Rama's paintings displayed a degree of candour that I found really brave and compelling.
A work in Bluecoat I found far too obtuse to enjoy was Daniel Bozhkov's "Music Not Good For Pigeons." I sat and tried to engage with the installation on more than one occasion, but took nothing away from either visit. None of the elements seemed to fit, and the space had no mood or message. This irreverence may have been the point of the work, but I found it impossible to engage with.
Nicholas Hlobo's "Ndize" was a much more successful work. The work started in the downstairs, with balls of wool and fabric seeming to travel in a sewn sort of tube up the stairs of the Bluecoat. The figure in this room was said to be the "hider" in a game of hide and seek, although I first believed it to be looking out of the window. Upstairs, the viewer experienced a maze of thick coloured ribbons hanging from the ceiling, and in the middle of the room was a conspiratorial pair of leather-clad figures, seemingly in conversation. The atmosphere of the upstairs space was very intense, with a sense of playfulness to it obviously because of the bright colours, but it was also in some ways quite ominous. I experienced the exhibition twice, once with and once without company, and the experiences were very different. The space which I'd enjoyed winding through with friends became more sinister and confusing, and the silence of the room was profound. The work seemed to allude to a secretive sort of sexuality, perhaps a vivid representation of private desires.
"Odile and Odette" by Yinka Shonibare was a piece I saw as part of Bluecoat's "Objects of Curiosity and Desire," part of Dadafest 2010. The piece was an excerpt performance of a famous scene from Swan Lake. I found the piece very affecting. The slick photography and well-realised sounds made for a very professional piece of film - the sound especially really conveying the feel of the dance from the dancer's perspective. A ballet, known as one of the most graceful and artistic artforms, with one element amplified, took on a very primal rhythm and atmosphere. The work may have alluded to racial themes, and I interpreted the dancers' synergy as an representation of unity. Ultimately though, I felt the work was more about something raw and implicit than racial identity. I've included an excerpt from the piece above.
This piece, "Bridging Home" by Do Ho Suh, is between two buildings on Duke Street. The building is very traditionally Asian in design, and it gives a surprising first impression. As a work of art I think it seems to imply an incongruity between the two cultures, with the jaunty angle and relatively small size of the house seemingly being crushed between the two larger, Western buildings speaking volumes. The work seems clever, but to me there's an inherent air of novelty to it that kept me from meditating on its meaning too long.
I think Ho Suh's piece echoes some of the concerns of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who uses traditional Chinese objects in his practise, twisting some aspect of their appearance to make them speak broader truths as objects.
I think Ho Suh's piece echoes some of the concerns of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who uses traditional Chinese objects in his practise, twisting some aspect of their appearance to make them speak broader truths as objects.
Tala Madani's mural, "Sunny Side Up," on Fleet Street is another outdoor part of the Biennial's Touched series. The work seems to be a very stylised, abstracted representation of a group of men, the yellow marks seeming to imply urination or feculence. The works allusion to the more base aspects of the human condition, and the fact that it seems to represent a group, may be intended as a reminder that, despite our differences, we are all still the same animal in some ways. There's a humour to the work, and the use of line reminds me of traditional caricature artists such as Gillray. This element of caricature is something I'd say I share in my own practise, and the feeling of base human experience is something I've explored through similar means in my own drawings in the past, albeit more explicitly.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
Rapid, formerly a hardware store in Liverpool city centre, recently housed a number of artworks to do with the Biennial theme of Touched. In the attic of the building, if the viewer explored enough to find it, was Rosa Barba's "Free Post Mersey Tunnels." The piece apparently channels the sound of the Mersey Tunnel into the room, although when I went the piece was very quiet. The concept of traffic noise channelled through a mess of burnished steel pipes carried a similar message to scenes in Terry Gilliam's 1985 film "Brazil," I felt, stating something about an increasingly mechanised, loud and busy way of living in the city.
"Trill-ogy Comp" by Ryan Trecartin was a series of three videos in the basement. The films were fast-paced and lurid explorations of youth culture, gender identity and beauty. They were gross and and wilfully vapid, with a sharp sense of social satire. I found the work grating, but extremely compelling and keenly observed. Trecartin's characters, though vividly narcissistic and banal in what they were saying, could still be related to by the viewer.
Lee Mingwei's "The Mending Project," a piece where Mingwei would mend clothes if you sat with him as he did it, seemed to me to be a partner artwork to "Hanging On to Each Other" by Kaireena Kaikkonen in FACT - an installation constructed from recylced clothes tied together by the sleeves and suspended from the ceiling. Kaikkonen's work, like Mingwei's, explores how we relate to each other through our clothes, and how there can be an often-overlooked act of bonding in their maintenance, and in sharing or inheriting them.
"Star-Gazers" by NS Harsha seemed a more upbeat piece, placing the viewer inside the artwork using a mirrored ceiling and floor painted with a crowd of faces looking up. It was novel and quirky, and addressed issues like overcrowding, while still maintaining an aspirational aspect. I found it really refreshing amongst many of the other artworks, which could perhaps have been typified by their critical nature. A digital piece called "Time/Bank" by Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle invited viewers to pledge their time and skills, hopefully in return for assistance from others. The resulting time pledges were very typical, and I found a volunteer in the "Personal" section of the database who's only offered skills were "availability" and "an open mind."
FACT Liverpool currently has a number of artworks on display that relate to the Biennial theme of "Touched." "My Voice Would Reach You" by Meiro Koizumi is a video artwork filmed on a busy street where a man makes a personal phone call. The man speaks as if he is talking to his mother, although the viewer gradually becomes aware that the person on the other end of the line is actually a call-centre employee. There's obviously a humour to the work, but there's an undercurrent of tragedy to it also, as the man's delusion becomes even more compounded and the call recipient becomes increasingly exasperated. The work seems to address a societal trend where impersonal city-living takes precedence over simple values like family and conversation.
Yves Netzhammer's "Dialogical Abrasion" was an installation with a very distinct atmosphere. Unusual, and graphic animations were projected on one wall, while various other scenes and vignettes around the room invited exploration. There were elements of sound, and lights would flash on quite unexpectedly as the viewer walked around. The work seemed almost interactive, although a steward informed us that the sound and light effects were actually happening according to a predetermined pattern. There was slight feel of a house of horrors to the work, as some of the effects could be quite startling, and one of the areas required the viewer to crawl into a darkened tunnel The animations were surreal and violent, and added to the sense of menace in the space. The work, to me, seemed to represent a frustration at everyday, mundane situations and rituals.
The best work in the exhibition, I felt, was "One Year Performance 1980-1981" by Tehching Hsieh. It was a number of objects documenting Hsieh's ritualistic performance where he would punch in on a time clock and take a polaroid photograph of himself in his home, in the same outfit, every hour for an entire year. The photographs and time cards felt very candid, with the tiredness and boredom clearly showing in Hsieh's face. Although the work was conceptual, the objects produced were very affecting. The cards which were incomplete because Hsieh had missed some of his hourly appointments, with the infractions marked in red pen (usually reading "sleeping"), gave the work a real humanity and a sense of the suffering the artist went through in its making.
Antii Laitinen is exhibiting a number of his works in the A Foundation, including the "It's My Island" trilogy and "The Bark," a new work. Laitinen is a Finnish performance artist whose work is primarily durational and explores a relationship with nature. "It's My Island," represented at A Foundation by a film, was a piece where Laitinen made an island in the sea with large rocks. Another work saw Laitinen live a feral lifestyle for three days and nights without clothes, food or water on an uninhabited island, and another saw him row an island-shaped craft across the Baltic. "The Bark" was a work where Laitinen crafted another boat from bark from a Finnish forest and rowed it across the Mersey.
All these works displayed a great degree of dedication and willpower, although I felt the exhibition lacked some of the artist's perspective, in that Laitinen's emotional involvement in the work could only be speculated on. Laitinen was silent in all the footage shown, and although clearly very involved in the work, seemed in some ways detached. The sense of self-endangerment and voluntary isolation, I felt, was the most telling aspect of these artworks.
While some of the other artworks felt slightly flat and failed to compel me, I thought this work, "Stones," was very successful. These were three stones Laitinen had found after seven minutes, seven hours, and seven days of digging. The piece was concise and quickly viewed, although it was deep and consolidated a lot of Laitinen's concerns in one work. I felt this was much more effective and direct than the films or objects produced as outcomes from his other projects.
Monday, 8 November 2010
Phase 5 is an exhibition of works loosely related to each other by the theme of sound on Seel Street. The building they are in is an unfinished nightclub that had to be abandoned due to a lack of funds. The first piece I encountered was "I Delayed People's Flights by Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways" by Mayke Nas and Wouter Snoei. The piece combined sound in the form of an audio loop of urgent whispers, a film of a group of people collaboratively writing on a series of blackboards, and also a participatory element in the form of a blackboard which the viewer was encouraged to write on. The theme was confession, although I don't feel much was confessed. Both the messages of the film and on the blackboard seemed contrived and overly earnest. Many struck me as trying very hard to be, or at least seem, profound.
This piece by Phil Jeck was one of the more successful works in the show, I felt. The piece had this pool of floating records, as well as two other lowered areas the viewer could look down on which had a number of turntables, some of which were spinning, some of which weren't. The work was clearly very lo-fi and slapdash, although it had a subtle atmosphere to it that some of the other works lacked. The arrangement was very serene, with the faint rhythmical noise of scratchy spinning records as well as the movement of the floating discs, but there was also an air of upset to it. The repetitiousness and sparsity, I felt , gave it a slightly sinister tone. It was meditative and spoke of introspection, but not in a cosy way.
The piece "Play" by Giussepe Stampo was a series of five black speakers shaped like coffins, which would play The Star-Spangled Banner quite loudly when ten pence was inserted into it. This work, I felt, was very blatant, almost facetious, and not very affecting.
"Murmur" by Ray Lee, located in the basement, was a very effective piece. The piece would activate whenever someone entered, and the viewer would look down into darkness at a series of whirring, spinning red lights at various heights. At the end, the lights would come on and the rickety structures of speakers, lights and motors would become visible. The lights in darkness alone I felt could have alluded to a number of things, such as the cyclical movement of atoms or perhaps astral orbiting patterns. The piece's real poignancy however came from the few seconds in which the viewer was allowed to see the actual constructions, ladders and wires, which gave the work a sense of personality and human endeavour.
Touch Village was an evening of performances that took place in the A Foundation on the 9th October 2010. The pieces were explorations of the themes of intimacy and human contact. The piece above, by Heather Jones, was a plain cardboard box that sat in the room from the beginning until the end of the exhibition. After a while fingers, toes, and other body parts started to emerge from the box, which viewers were encouraged to interact with. I felt slightly uncomfortable touching a mystery finger, and couldn't fathom interacting with a mystery toe, which is the main thing I learnt from the artwork. Jones explains on her website that the work is "a playful piece about the higgledy-piggledy in relationships," and it was surprisingly, (and quite uncomfortably) intimate.
The piece I thought was most affecting was a sensory artwork by Lynn Lu. The viewer would participate in the artwork first by taking Lu's hand from behind a curtain as an "invitation" to the work, and would then sit in a chair alone and experience it with their eyes closed. The experience is very hard to describe, but Lu was giving the viewer various sensations of warmth, sound, smell and movement from actions performed around the "blind" viewer. It was an unusual sort of intimacy that invited a very subjective response. Some of the people who I experienced the work with described it as very relaxing, while others found it uncomfortable because of its inherent sensuality. I felt the work was quite a serene escape from some of the more probing artworks on show.
I watched a number of the other artworks, including a piece where viewers were invited by a female artist into a small box and then blindfolded. Their hands were massaged and cleaned, then they were led into another chamber where a man who they could not see would take their hands and vigorously massage his face with them. They were filmed inside, and this would be projected for people outside to watch. Although this work would have been a surprising and novel experience, there was nothing really surprising in what it uncovered. I talked to people after they took part in it, and the universal opinion was, of course, that they hadn't enjoyed unexpectedly touching a man's face.