Sunday, January 14, 2007

"It's All About The Work"

There is a highly respected club and radio DJ who it is sometimes suggested lacks ‘skills’ on the decks, however despite this he puts his success down to one element by using the phrase “it’s all about the music”. After a long, rambling epic journey of a conversation with art colleague and friend, Karen D’Amico, in a Columbia Road pub on Friday afternoon it occurred to me that “it’s all about…” is the fundamental issue in all fields of creative production. For artists therefore “it’s all about the work”.

Our conversation moved through the many aspects of our current attitudes to the world of art, our own work and the many and varied sidesteps and offshoots regarding the life of an artist. It was one of those great conversations where you can drop your guard and sound off one minute and then enthuse about the bubbling plots and plans of your own personal projects both practical and impractical.

It was also a conversation that sent me back to the previous evening and to my thoughts of the current show at the Fieldgate Gallery. ‘Latitude’ has drawn together a group of artists from Minneapolis, London and New York, the Fieldgate Gallery is the 2nd show of the 3 part series that will culminate in New York, the series is concerned with the interconnectedness of artists within a global community. The technological world is bringing people closer together in unique ways, access to images and ideas from artists on the other side of the planet are easier than ever to find from the comfort of your laptop, but is this affecting the work?. I certainly believe that trends in art are leading to a market homegenisation, the locality of artists is less relevant to the finished work than in the past, in art fair land this is evident. So it was with great interest that I viewed the varied works produced from the three cities, are there trends of fashionability in the styles of work?, do the artists show locally recognised traits or is this globalisation pervading the grass roots of the London, New York and Minneapolis art world, and is this affected by the locality of this current exhibition?.

As ever with any exhibition you are drawn to some work and against others by personal taste, I always struggle against my own anti-painting tastes but hopefully quality will out and I am broadminded enough to fight against my prejudices. Luckily Diann Bauer didn’t have to make me fight too hard with her wonderful painting, she skilfully produces a very graphic oriented image of great scale, from afar it looks like an oversized comic art styled illustration, the imagery shows what appears to be either the end of the universe or perhaps the beginnings. Lines, swirls, colours and shapes explode from a central point, the disorder of the explosion is rendered sharp and ordered under her steady hand. However up close the clean lines show paint bleeding under straight taped lines, the earliest plans and lines in pencil are left untouched at points where they are uncovered by paint and ink. The cleanness that is observed from afar is balanced by Bauers’ pragmatic approach to constructing the image, what might be erased and hidden by a fussier artist is left, accidents of production remain proud and speak far more of the efforts and the personality of the artist than if they were not evident, maybe she is showing us that the universe is nothing without the souls that inhabit it. As one of such souls it seems Bauer is as charming, unpretentious and complex as her painting would indicate.
Rosemary Williams has constructed a wall of shopping bags from the Mall of America, it is obviously an amusing work but strangely unsettling at the same time. Simple and straightforward it allows you to ask yourself what you feel about conspicuous consumption by just putting the facts in front of you, Williams is not leading you though, she is too busy with the project that created this piece with her podcast documenting her efforts to purchase one item from each store at Mall of America. You can see this quest on if you are not too busy at Lakeside or Bluewater. More shopping obsessed culture neurosis can be seen further into the gallery with Andy Hsu’s sculpture that contains one hundred pound shop items, it is once again an amusing and unsettling view of consumerism, I laugh at the multitude of plastic tat available for a meagre budget of £100 and cringe at the thought that some of this may be waiting for me at home after a lifetime of unnecessary purchases.

There are many other pieces on show and luckily these artists show great variety, it is interesting that only a handful of pieces have the ‘seen it before’ effect but concerns about cultural homogenisation and globalisation ring through in one final piece, Sarah Barker’s video shows what appears to be a contestant in a ‘reality pop star game show wannabe Mariah’ video. She sings, badly, very badly, cringingly badly to a backing track with the film showing the colour voice to camera and black & white flashback segments of girl with boy scenes you will have seen a million times in most MTV music videos. I found the spectacle strangely compelling, it was truly bad viewing (and listening) in a deliberate way but nowhere near when compared to the real thing, I stood and watched the video spectacle unfold when the very thing it parodies would have had me reaching for the remote.

It is bizarre that many of the artists are presenting work that relates issues of consumer culture and globalisation when these issues are directly affecting art production as much as every other ‘product’, the work on show was varied and unique enough to show hope for the future but then again the premise of this show was to look at such issues and the artists are just embarking on the commercial treadmill, but the quality of any artists work will always outweigh other commercial or non-commercial considerations. As we will always know “it’s all about the work”.


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