Thursday, November 30, 2006

Flights Of Fantasy

When I was a child I was fascinated by dictionaries, encyclopaedias and maps, the classification and representation of ‘things’ amazed me, the fact that somebody could collect and collate all that knowledge into one accessible document. In later years as a nine to five’ing adult I would realise just how tedious the production of such documents and publications could be as my boss and I would proofread chemical listings, technical descriptions and equations drafted for print in scientific documents, luckily (or maybe because of) I have moved into a rather more interesting, if less financially lucrative, life. However my childhood excitement of the bizarre descriptions and exotic photographs of the scientific world in encyclopaedias has stayed with me, grainy black and white photos of aircraft, vehicles, ships, rockets, weaponry and industrial architecture still entrance me.
On entering the M+R gallery on Kingsland Road to see Brendan Walker’s ‘Airphoria: Terminal 1’ exhibition I was never going to be disappointed. Walker has turned the gallery into a proposal exhibition for a theoretical installation inspired by two disparate aviation events, a parachute mine destroyed a teahouse and amusement park on Epping Forest in November 1940 and in 1999 a Korean Airways cargo plane crashed on Hatfield Forest. Both events have been combined to inform the collaged and sculptural documentation scattered around the gallery. Two large colourful prints of aerial disaster scenes, a small library of aviation, fairground and Korean related books, a 2 screen projection with footage donated by the National Fairground archive and other black & white newsreel footage with an airline seat from which to view the films and hybrid sculptural, wall relief and collage all sit as individual documentation or ‘sketches’ of Walker’s thought processes and influences for the possible final installation piece. It is as a whole environment that Walkers piece really affects the viewer, it is melancholy and fun, forward looking but rooted in nostalgia, real and fictional and nerdy but gregarious. A piece of a branch from the area of forest from the crash and a fragment of a Korean Airways aircraft alongside burnt pieces of coloured fabric catch your eye but the overall exhibition melds into a gallery filled 3d encyclopaedic experience, what is real and imagined, documented from the past or proposed for the future blur into this one overall experience. I left with those strange feelings that we all felt as small children when we leafed through encyclopaedias, those factual but strange descriptions of the scientific and industrial world combined with those black and white or faded colour photographs sent our minds on flights of fantasy, from the factual and real beginnings of the descriptions to the possibilities of the future that this information provided, we knew there was a strange and exciting future out there in the world but what would our adult selves be doing in it? I am not sure I can remember what my six year old self thought my adult self would be doing in the future but somewhere inside my mind inside the M+R gallery tonight Brendan Walker's installation had awakened that fascinated little kid I used to be.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Peel Session

The love that people feel for the late John Peel is a strange thing, I think I am a little too young and London to understand the depth of feeling for Peel, however, his huge influence is enough for me to see his impact on the British music world and the numerous musicians and DJ’s who I respect. In a London world of pirate stations playing every type of music you can think of the variety of Peel’s amazingly varied radio shows were less necessary than for those whose only radio experience was the BBC radio network or local radio ("do you remember this one by Leo Sayer?", "Of course I do, you played it 10 minutes ago!"), at the time that my non London friends were getting into music I was listening in equal amounts to John Coltrane, Public Enemy, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix whilst tuning into LWR and Kiss on a crappy, scratchy, tinny radio. My hero DJ's and main musical source of crate digging inspiration was firstly Robbie Vincent and then Gilles Peterson, John Peel was a respected but somehow untapped source, I guess I was receiving his musical wisdom through my ten years older sister.
On Thursday night at No More Grey on Redchurch Street I visited the opening of the Harry Pye curated/arranged/conceived tribute exhibition “For Peel”. A queue outside showed that this was going to be a lively one, one of those events that will stay in my addled memory slightly longer than the usual. The gallery was filled with the sounds of punk, reggae and other Peel influenced musical sounds from the DJ in the corner whilst a heaving room of artists, muso’s and other Peel fans chattered, mused and tried hard not to knock the art on the walls and each other flying in all directions. It was an uplifting sight to see such a large variety of people enjoying the art, a great DJ set and Red Stripe. For some time I have not really experienced such an atmosphere at a PV or opening but the sheer variety of young and old, square and hip, arty and muso, high and low made this a great night to just soak up the atmosphere and the sounds played by the suited up DJ. Despite the huge numbers of people obscuring the art I managed to pick out some great art pieces, Bob & Roberta Smith’s ‘I Believe In The Fall’ and Peter Davies ‘Festive 50’ chart listing caught my eye and Cathy Lomax Courtney Love portrait snuck up on me as it peeked at me from over the DJ’s shoulder.
Even without the sounds it is worth taking a look so head over to Redchurch Street and take a look at this worthy tribute to the great man.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Suspicion on Vyner Street

About a month or two ago I read with interest Time Out’s outgoing art editor Sarah Kent’s critical account of current British art and in particular its latest trendy home of Vyner Street. Subsequent to this I also read Cathy Lomax response and her findings when she visited some of the exhibitions and galleries mentioned in Kent’s article. With these thoughts in mind I spent the early evening visiting two of the openings on Vyner Street.
The street is a particularly bleak and unwelcoming place and Cathy Lomax felt a similar unwelcoming attitude was evident within the galleries themselves. I attempted to put these things to the back of my mind entering the building that shares the Fred and David Risley galleries. I firstly take a look in Fred and am confronted by Peter Jones’ monkey paintings, they are technically very strong paintings being worked to high level and also with no small amount of effort, however, they carry no soul or heart. These images of toy monkeys are dark, depressing and joyless, some of these stuffed creatures smile but under the smirk lies what appears to be a hollow eyed cynicism, some gaze into the middle distance but others eye you suspiciously, the press release would have me believe that Jones’ has worked a large variety of emotions into the faces of these portraits but I only see emptiness, cynicism and suspicion. Interestingly the original toy monkeys would have had the projected joy, love and playfulness by their youthful owners and in later years were no doubt discarded and unloved due to the growing sophistication of their child companions, maybe this veiled mistrust or hatred for their lost friends is what the monkeys faces are projecting back at me. This is the point where I return to my initial thoughts regarding Cathy Lomax earlier Vyner Street experience, within my peripheral vision I have a sense that not only are the monkeys eyeing me with cynicism, mistrust or suspicion but with the odd glance shot my way the visitors and perhaps gallery staff too.
The David Risley Gallery is located in the same building next door to Fred and is showing their “Ball The Wall” exhibition with the artists Stephen Dean, James Hyde and Richard Woods. Hyde’s work doesn’t really engage me, perhaps it is too subtle after my moody experience next door and possibly I am in need of something with an obvious visual kick. Dean’s scrambled dartboards draw my eye, the structure of the boards has been relaxed and retightened, the boards have been scrambled and the form reassembled back into its familiar circular shape but its patterns and colours are now scrambled into a mess. It is Woods assemblage paintings that really grab me, there is something pleasing about the found backgrounds on which he spreads the gloopy irregular splurge of vivid gloss paint but there are two other things which I leave the gallery with as I head back past more suspicious eyes and onto Vyner Street, it is the strong smell of gloss paint, firstly I have memories of my father, a painter and decorator who carried this familiar unique smell on his work clothes, hands and hair. This is a connotation that is unintended by Woods but nevertheless a unique personal experience and memory for me. Secondly is an enduring sense that I always feel suspicious that any gallery that smells strongly of paint also smells vaguely of opportunism.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Travels With A Caravan

The Fieldgate Gallery in Whitechapel has become one of my regular must visit art spaces, initially I was overwhelmed by the scale of the space and in the group shows they exhibit the equally overwhelming number of works scattered around the gallery, but these initial doubts have subsided and it is one of those galleries that have crept into my mind and pull me back with each new show. The current exhibition ‘Houses In Motion’ is curated by Richard Ducker and features the work of 16 artists, the artworks are scattered through the space in a slightly distracting manner, they are no doubt dictated by the peculiar dimensions of the space and despite the initial perception of randomness a visitor can feel the natural flow of movement from one work to the next. On entry to the gallery I was attracted to Roger Kelly’s drawings, they are swamped by the other works on show but their quietness coaxes me in, the pencil drawings using line but no tonal variations of shade did not give up their subject in an obvious manner to me. I can still not tell what the drawings were of but the level of draughtsmanship on show is entrancing, they are subtle but make you look. Stripped of shade, light and dark they are reminiscent of an architects fantasy imaginings in graphic novel form, they are similar to the sketches of the architect Lebbeus Woods who also constructs similar drawn imagery. Kelly’s two drawings here are much less readable, architectural, engineered and manufactured forms amalgamate to create a cluttered and abstracted environment. Gaia Persico’s sketches on small pages of hotel notepaper also lie in the realms of the architect. On the course of her travels she has sketched architectural forms on these small pre-printed scraps of paper, lined up along the gallery wall are tiny line drawings of cranes, pyramid type structures, walled spaces and towers. This manner of sketching is reminiscent to the rudimentary initial sketch ideas formed by architects on their travels but in Persico’s case the observed is altered. Real and imagined form the drawing and the line between the two are literally and metaphorically blurred.
These constructs of the real and imagined vying for attention resonate through many pieces in the show, Amikam Toren’s chair piece takes a wooden chair and whittles it down to a much finer less solid structure. With solidity removed from the designed form and with the edges rounded and shaped the chair begins to look like some terrible skeleton. Wood becomes bone and the simple comforting object becomes a strange, silent but vaguely menacing presence. More bones on view but this time they are real, Alistair Mackie has constructed a small, delicate, sculptural bird cage. Subverting the process that created these skeletal remains he has fashioned this avian cage from the bones of rodents found in birds nests.
One work which does not play with real and imagined is Kathleen Herbert’s ‘Nightwatch’ photographs, in the spaces of the gallery normally reserved for video work are Herbert’s three photos of night shift security guards. These are simple but effective images of lone security guards sat at the reception desks of city offices, from the dark exterior realms of the street Herbert has quietly observed the men who have to work when the rest of us sleep. Without being noticed she has taken portraits of these men, the distance and lighting has stripped the photographs of a certain clarity but the unknown sitter’s faces can be seen quietly pinpointed in light whilst the darkness of the night time alters the colouring and shading to the outer edges of the frame of the photograph. From the light in the centre of the portrait which highlights the subjects face the isolation of the scene is heightened by the pervasive presence of the night time darkness, incrementally the light moves through progressive shades of greys, browns to a final dull soft blackness at the extreme edges of the photo. These photos are impressive enough but what really sets these images to their best effect is the wider sculptural effects of the lighting and the placing of them within this particular part of the Fieldgate gallery. They are isolated in a small darkened office space adjacent to a larger room, the lighting of the photos is extremely low but enough to view the photos in comfort whilst leaving the room somewhat underlit. From the larger room the effect is finished by the small window in the wall of the office, the architecture of the gallery complements these photos perfectly and from outside the room the viewer sees the photos echoed by the gallery architecture in a wider sculptural context.
Back in the main space one piece is of such scale that it demands attention, in the centre of the larger gallery space sits Stewart Gough and Tom Ormond’s caravan, for an object of this scale it does not overpower the other works. The caravan is intact on three of its four sides, however, the remaining side and roof have been altered by Gough and Ormond. Cutting into the structure of the caravan they have folded out in varying angles and shapes the existing structure, the internal fittings of the van have been left intact except where the interventions into the fabric of the object have necessitated. The interior of the caravan is exposed as this quiet explosion of edges, shapes and forms fold outwards into the air. It is an impressive sculpture, manufactured with an ergonomic eye Gough and Ormond have made just enough interventions and to a complementary scale and manner. In others hands this may have gone beyond the point necessary but they have held themselves steady and stopped short of overworking the sculpture and this restraint has been paid
back with a rewarding piece that is pleasing, subtle and thoughtful. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Stewart Gough a little about the work and the back story to the project enhanced my enjoyment of the piece even more, from the research into the correct model of van to the rushed and frantic efforts to find one as time was running short, to the purchasing, via ebay, and the subsequent West Country road trip to pick up the caravan and the logistics of its packing into a van and transporting back to London.
Gough and Ormond’s sculpture adds a fun, humorous and down to earth complement to the overall exhibition and with the initial curatorial brief highlighting a broad response to the built environment once again the Fieldgate gallery brings us another rewarding exhibition with a large group of artists who have all embraced the aims of the exhibition to show us work of great scope, reflection and honesty.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Journey To The Edge Of Europe

For 4 days I have been in Lisbon, in particular for the Arte Lisboa fair but also for a well deserved holiday. It is easy to become jaded when stuck in London for too long and despite the odd weekend out of London I have spent most of the summer in our hot, smoggy city. Don’t get me wrong nobody loves London more than me but it has its faults and every now and again it is good to have a change of scene and with autumn well established and winter on its way I needed to expose my solar batteries to a little charge. I also wanted to see what the Spanish and Portuguese speaking world had going on in terms of art. What follows is a speedy rush through what I stumbled on.
Lisbon really does feel like the edge of Europe, a ten minute ride on the ferry across the river to Cacilhas provides great views of the city and an insight into the Lisbon docks 15 years earlier, on this side of the wide estuary of the Tejo river is an ungentrified dockside with fisherman lining the dock and derelict warehouses covered in graffiti, some dockside warehouses however are still holding on and continuing their business and one interesting peek through a particular open door showed a handful of guys hand making large barrels. Just outside the ferry terminal is a variety of stalls which look like they could have been there since the early years of the last century, in some cases the food which is being sold appears to have the same vintage. Back in Lisbon the variety of restaurants is huge, from simple traditional Portuguese standards to modern European food Lisboan restaurateurs pride themselves on the freshness of their food and with this in mind it is not unusual in more traditional establishments to be offered to look at the food on offer before it is cooked. Lunchtimes around the Mercado da Ribiera you will find inexpensive food for market traders and visitors to have with their lunchtime ‘bica’ (espresso) or beer. One evening meal at Charcuteria on Rua do Alecrim showed the quality and style of Portuguese food, there were no huge flamboyant gastronomic gestures evident in other European cuisine but the pate, bacalhau and olive oil were better than any other I have tried across the Mediterranean.
The Lisbon evening doesn’t really get started until 11pm and although a walk through Bairra Alta is an experience not to be missed the Fado tourist traps are best avoided, from bars and clubs numerous drunk British, German and Dutch tourists spill out onto the streets in their masses with the more unsophisticated Lisboan students and a handful of unsavoury types, however a walk to the southern reaches of the Bairra and to the edges of the Chiada and Bica areas appears to offer some hope to those not looking for chemical help with their night out or for stag/hen do territory. This area at the bottom of the hill and before the main Alta stretches seems to be showing some interesting developments, quiet doorways open into buildings hosting small music venues, cafes, artists studios and galleries alongside the traditional shops. In what appears to be a quiet, scruffy and historically marginal part of town a small, quiet scene is emerging, for the less hedonistic or those with an eye on the more subtle edges of culture this is the place to explore, just walk and keep your eyes and ears open. It was in this part of the city that we found Number 84 Rua da Boavista which is home to the gallery vpfcreamarte and the Plataforma Revolver artist studios, we strolled up the main staircase and had an enjoyable hour looking at Inez Teixeira’s large scale paintings, the Plataforma group exhibition and the work of Monica Gomes and Raquel Feliciano on show in their studio next door in the same building. The artists at work in such spaces were a pleasant change to the more marketable examples at the art fair across town and with the not for profit space arte contempo and the Rigo 23 show of his hybrid street art/sculpture/installation/documents in Galeria Ze Dos Bois in the Bairra Alto it was a good look into the edges of the Lisbon art world, if this small view is anything to go by the less mainstream end of Portuguese art looks ready for wider recognition in the rest of Europe.
Despite my usual reservations about art fairs it was nice to see a Havana based gallery invited to the fair and Celma Alberquque’s gallery from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The Lisbon galleries Galeria 111 and Artfit showed work by some interesting artists and Galeria Sopra need a mention for the courageous and exciting styles of work by their band of artists, this is a gallery unapolagetically forward thinking, it is obvious that market trends are not in their thoughts when selecting work for the gallery they are allowing their artists to push boundaries in the art marketplace, long may it continue I for one will be keeping an eye on their progress.
Lisbon was an interesting experience professionally and as a tourist, the art on the street was interesting enough without going into the fair and galleries.
I hope that I can get back to the city soon and spend a little longer next time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Untitled Photos

Untitled (series of 34),
C-type photographic prints, 10/2006
(images by Steve Smith)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Say It With Flowers

Do you ever feel you are being bombarded with too much information?, do the constant messages through your radio and television grate when you are being asked to think whether your hair is not sculpted enough?, are you not protecting your teeth from rotting with an inferior brand of toothpaste whilst troughing your burger and chips or multiple packets of crisps of every flavour and numerous bars of chocolate?
Is the slogan on your T shirt reflecting your true personality? Are your jeans the wrong shade of blue or are the rips in the wrong place? Should you change your footwear because they are out of season and what are the correct socks to wear with them? Do you have the right scent to pull the objects/s of your affection/s or will the person in question not even get close to you anyway because they spotted the wrong brand of underwear peeking over the top of your low slung waistband which their eyes were drawn to because your belt is the wrong thickness? Maybe you can entice them back with a nice meal at home but whose recipe book do you buy to cook from? Which supermarket can give you the cant lose dessert to melt their heart?. If you are successful and five years down the line what car should you buy to reflect the best facets of both your personalities?, Who will you book your holiday with for that romantic anniversary city break? When the kids come along what branded footwear are they begging for? What disgusting foodstuffs do they insist on munching to put them off your healthy family dinner? blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…………

If you have ever had these decision crises over the who, what, where with the multitude of advertising slamming into your eyes from every magazine, television screen, newspaper and billboard and now feel sick to your stomach at the thought of the multitude of crap that is firstly marketed at you, secondly bought by you in a moment of moral weakness and thirdly clogging up some landfill at the backside end of somewhere outside East London then you are only partly the way to understanding the ecological panic that Tracey Bush suffers. For some years Tracey has been trying to do her bit as a usual urban dweller in reducing the amount of toxic landfill nonsense that she personally contributes to the planet, Tracey’s art uses found objects and images, packaging, adverts, little bits of card and paper, in fact to put it impolitely, rubbish. Imagine her as a modern day human womble hoovering up paper and cardboard rubbish and turning it into art.
On Wednesday an exhibition of her latest work opened at the Clerkenwell Green Association on St John Square, in the small gallery space inside the Association’s Pennybank Chambers building are incredibly intricate, hand crafted sculptures and collaged drawings of wild flowers. Drawing parallels between our lost art of recognising the things that surround us in the natural world, in this case wild flowers, and our recognition of brands and branded goods. She is not so much pointing the finger at us for our blind consumption than to those that would bury us in marketing so deeply that we can recognise their products through a splash of colour, a font or a smiley faced familiar. On a series of collaged drawings the leaves of the plants do not show subtle shades of green and the petals of their flowers do not bear natural colour but the stark colours of brands and logos for airlines, chocolate bars, biscuits, washing powder, breakfast cereal, clothing, painkilling medicine, sweets, animated films, footwear and alcoholic drinks amongst many others. In bell jars the leaves and petals of these reconstructed sculptural models of plants show the familiar messages that turn our minds from the natural world to other more consumerist actions, one plant reminds us to have a smoke, a cup of tea or a take away coffee and then ‘Just Do It’, another displays an array of intricate flowers and leaves bearing such multitude of fizzy drinks, chocolate gloop, sugary sweets numerous other foods and drink that your liver might twitch in pain at the thought of the potential bombardment.

The scariest thing and the simple but important point that Tracey’s hand made facsimiles show us is that this recognition of logos, brands and products is inescapable, most of the packaging may be from products you hardly, if ever purchase but you can be sure that just a small glance at these wonderfully colourful, beautiful drawings and sculptures will fill your brain with a multitude of brands that you recognise, you may not have thought of these for some time but instantly the product or brand will be recalled, unfortunately the flowers may remain unrecognisable despite their distinct leaf shapes and sizes and the intricate detailing of their petal constructions. This is intricate, finely crafted and thought provoking work and don’t be fooled by the instant “I get it” factor, the work demands a longer look as nuances of observation take over. The exhibition is open until 25th November, Wednesdays to Saturdays, go and take a look, “Just Do It”.

Eighties Revival

The Eighties were a dark and confusing part of British history, the time when the British finally came to terms with the loss of Empire and moved into an understanding of its evils and how those issues affect British society and Britain’s global influence in modern times. The global economy and its pervasive force of change on society took hold, the Conservative government dominated the decade, huge social change was enforced by new policies previously unthought of by earlier administrations, the Falklands war, stock market crash and riots in Brixton and Toxteth made the British general public rethink their country, it was the decade when Britain was remade in the modern image that we see in present times.
For young people it was it was a time when tribal affiliations were borne out through fashion and music, the diversity of these tribes were massive and in modern times this diversity has been lost, the obvious fashion demarcations are gone. Punks, new mods, goths, old fashioned rockers and their modern metal counterparts, new romantics and in the latter reaches of the decade hip-hop kids all strolled the streets with their particular and peculiar fashions. In the early eighties one of the predominant tribes was the mods, this was their second incarnation since the first wave in the Sixties, in the late Seventies and early Eighties the younger brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of the first wave appropriated the music and clothing of earlier times and the scene was reborn. Filmmaker Shane Meadows was one of those young mods and this is the semi autobiographical territory of his latest film “This is England”.

12 year old Shaun is alienated from his schoolmates in his flares and old fashioned cardigan and is bullied at school and lost in thoughts of his much loved Father recently killed in the Falklands war. He meets a group of older boys who recognise his alienation, leader Woody takes an older brother role and takes him under his wing, the precocious Shaun is soon adopting the fashions of his older friends with shaven head, drainpipe jeans rolled above Doc Martens and a Ben Sherman shirt set of by a thick pair of braces. He enjoys some knockabout fun with his new friends and life becomes happier but then a face from Woody’s past reappears to upset the comfortable life of the gang. This older friend of Woody’s has been recently released after 3 years in prison and is armed with the rhetoric and violent habits of newfound National Front inspired ideas. Woody removes himself from the influence of his old friend but Shaun changes his allegiance to this older, charismatic father figure and becomes involved in casual crime and violence. His new older friend sees the pain Shaun feels at the loss of his father and empathises having suffered a younger life without his own father, he sees himself reflected in the younger Shaun. Shaun still has great affection for his old friends, including Milky the only black member of his gang. The issues that arise from this uneasy balance of the lazy racism of his new friends and the friendship he wishes to maintain with Milky and his non NF friends becomes harder to reconcile and events unfold which make Shaun and others face the consequences of their shaky beliefs.
This is a very enjoyable film and the fashions, music and historical background very well observed, I occasionally thought a little too well observed but its authenticity is stronger than many other representations of the time. For anyone in their 30’s or 40’s this is a real nostalgia trip especially the opening montage of film footage.

Some critics recognise this as Meadows most accomplished film and alongside his other films “This is England” should augment his reputation as a one of the best cinematic chroniclers of late 20th Century Britain, he observes the country in ways that most other British film makers either will not or cannot and all with humour, lightness, darkness and depth in equal measure.