Sunday, June 24, 2007

....whit a psychological lift....

Many artists do other jobs to provide the money to continue their art activities, some find jobs related to their art practice working for arts organisations and galleries and some just do two bit part time joe-jobs, they don’t pay well but they do not take too much emotional energy and allow one to coast through the day whilst earning a small but useful wage. This is the life of Stuart Murray, however unlike his artistic contemporaries Murray has turned this work/art balance on it’s head and uses his experiences in these jobs to create his artwork, he looks at those work colleagues and members of the public he has met working as a postman and filing clerk. Murray creates drawings that depict a cartoon Glasgow world of alcoholics, the homeless, disillusioned men and women in low paid work and people aware of a changing city that is leaving them behind, don’t be fooled by the word cartoon though, there is no caricature in these simply rendered line drawn portraits annotated with the anecdotes of the people he depicts. We see the homeless and drunk cadging a few quid or cigarettes, the guy in the pub drowning his sorrows because of ill health, the woman angered by the smell of accumulated piss on the stairs of her block of flats. All these stories and many others are contained in printed booklets, these read as diaries of travels around the city, with Murray as postman he documents the concerns of those whose post he delivers on his route, we see days spent talking with neighbours in his local pub and most touchingly the story of his developing friendship with an older male colleague in an anonymous filing room in a Glasgow office building. Murray litters his book with the colourful language of his hometown, like real life Murray’s stories swing between humour and melancholy, hope and fear, we see a city and it’s inhabitants in all their many guises.

Stuart Murray takes a simple style of drawing and production and creates art of real strength, here at the Cell project space it is an emotional ride to engage with Murray’s art but whether those stories we see are happy or sad they are certainly enjoyable. Other artists may use the source material to ridicule those whose lives he has depicted but something comes through loud and clear, this is reality and Murray belongs amongst these people, they are real, we cry with them not for them, we laugh with them not at them, their concerns affect us whether we realise or not.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Racing Through the Market

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Smithfield Nocturne

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Environmental E:vents

It has taken many years and some still dispute the science but since the Stern Review of 2006 there has been an increased awareness of climate change and the need for environmental sustainability, our politicians now accept that inaction is not an option. It seems the effects of climate change are accelerating and increasing, despite a reliance on economic doctrines and conventional market wisdoms as a method for justifying our unwillingness to accept the inevitable our political classes are aware that changes to human activities are necessary to halt the damaging effects of our actions on the environment.

The general public are slowly accepting the need to alter their lifestyles to accommodate more environmentally sustainable practices, many choose to disregard the warnings but most of us to varying degrees understand the correlation between our actions and the consequent damage to the environment. Scientists are continuing to monitor the sites of climate change and study the evidence, 10 years ago this evidence was gathered from more marginal, less populated parts of the world but climate change is happening closer to home, it is no longer subtle changes to sea temperature, or minor seasonal fluctuations in the polar climates. The damage is done and the evidence is piling up on our doorsteps, new 3 bedroom, detached house in the Thames gateway floodplain anyone?, no I thought not.

So how have artists reacted and responded to environmental issues? Through the 80’s and early to mid 90’s political art was dismissed by many artists, curators and critics, too much exposure to 70’s art that seemed like propaganda, too preachy. In recent years the concept of the ‘political’ has slowly been reintroduced into art practice, our concepts of what political really means has broadened, as formal political ideology has given way to a more reactive pragmatism in our political classes, it is very difficult now to determine what the core political values of any party are, without a clear view of where the interests of the political classes truly lay the masses have seen issues of global economic and environmental concerns overlap far more with issues of community, society and the individual. In this political environment artists are now beginning to respond to issues often left untouched or only skirted round by our polticians, for an artist responding to the environment what may have once seemed like campaigning has now become much more documentary or narrative based.
The E:vent gallery is currently showing the work of three artists who have been asked by curator Brian Reed to respond to themes related to human interaction with nature and the global climate, the three invited artists have produced three very different responses but one thing is very clear, for these artists climate change and environmental destruction is real and of concern.

Monica Biagioli’s video shows slowly changing indeterminate shapes that move through a variety of colour changes, sharp piercing white shapes turn to a softer green, yellows and browns move into a more vivid and harsher blue and purple. These abstracted video animations are taken from footage of grazing sheep but with Biagioli’s manipulations the original pastoral scenes become more reminiscent of rapid and unstoppable bacterial growth as seen under a powerful microscope.

Michael Trischberger
’s architectural intervention into the gallery space shows numerous branches piercing the walls and protruding and intruding into our human environment. It is a reminder that we share our place in the world with all its other living forms, as climate change alters our planet I am reminded that the changes we see are perceived in our human arrogance as negative, the forces of nature that alter our environment and threaten our current lifestyles are natures adaptions to our arrogant and unsustainable actions. We have altered life on the planet by our intervention in the climatic fabric of the world but if these alterations and natural adaptions continue we may have caused the means by which nature can reclaim the planet from us.

Katherine Eastman’s photos of her slowly defrosting freezer are a simple but captivating metaphor, the photos are shown as a series of slides which appear at short intervals. As one photo follows the other the lumps of ice melt and change, this change is noticable but not rapid, the impression is one of subtle transformation and slow inevitability. However much the same as the changing polar landscape the inevitable is also uncertain, we recognise the altering scene but it’s slow progress is strangely engrossing whilst at the same time the uncertainty and slow inevitably holds us to observe rather than react. Eastman’s slides appear on screen as isolated photos but also as a series documenting a process, perhaps Eastman is suggesting that an intervention in this small process we recognise and understand will help us to recover from that other process that we recognise but whose consequences remain uncertain.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Details, Details

The Overture is the much heralded re-opening event of the Royal Festival Hall. After the long closure to accommodate the refurbishment of the hall the 3 day series of free events has seen a huge crowd enjoying a diverse programme of music, dance and art. The Overture event runs from the 8th to the 10th of June and will present the future artistic programme of the RFH and enable visitors to see the improvements to the building. Public spaces have been opened up to give wider access to parts of the building, catering facilities have been upgraded and the cosmetic changes to the fabric of the building will declutter the building and install fresh materials to the interior, the interior remains sympathetic to the buildings existing 1950’s architectural stylings. All well and good, a refurbishment with integrity and thoughtfulness it seems, as an ex architecture student, albeit for only a short time, I visited the new building on Saturday with an eye less on the events and more with my sights on the improvements to the building and ready to cast a critical gaze on the structure and interior of this famous venue.

Visiting on Saturday evening I was confronted by an enormous crowd enjoying the festivities laid on by the RFH but even through the masses I could see that the access to the riverside has been much improved, this is of course something that any fan of the hall would have hoped for, it is on entering the hall that my reservations creep in. The changes that have allowed more public space to be opened up are a great improvement, no longer does one feel confined to the main hall, the other floors have been cleared, access to these seems somehow more welcoming. In the past these parts of the building seemed a little off limits unless you were being ushered to your seats in the auditorium, the removal of the demarcations of public and audience greatly enhance the experience of moving around the building. The main bar and ballroom seem much more connected, it is now not necessary to stand in the pit in front of the bar to purchase drinks as the floor level has been evened out, all in all the aim to create more space and movement around the building appears to have been very successful, in what was always a very comfortable building to be in that comfort level has been increased.

With the sense of the overall flow of the building taken into account I look at the details and finishes and this is when my reservations creep in, when attending such a grand opening it is always upsetting to see the little details that remain unfinished, it is with my sights on these finishes and details that the evidence piles up. The odd unfinished detail from the build specification is understandable but after 30 minutes of strolling round this lovely building one thing becomes abundantly clear, the final fit of this building has not been completed, not only has it not been completed in a few areas of detail but in almost every detail. Around the building evidence of this mounts up, the famed unique design of the reproduction Wilton carpet is there for all to see but it has not been fitted to completion, all over the surface are the dusty remnants of loose fur balls of unbrushed carpet fibres, seemingly the staff couldn’t find the hoover, perhaps this is just a domestic oversight, a kind of unsightly oversight. Then my eyes rise from foot level to ceiling height to find loose electric cabling attached to the ceiling as the trails end in a tied up mess at eye level, on closer inspection most parts of the building have been left with some sizeable areas of electric work unfinished, hundreds of metres of cables are exposed ready for their final fit, attached to wall and ceilings they snake around at various intervals. Occasionally you can see unplastered plasterboard, in a few cases studwork awaits the final delivery of the board necessary to finish the wall, next to the ball room the staircase has a piece of balustrade missing, health and safety obviously cleared that once the impromptu scaffold pole construction was put in its place. Further problems with the electrical fit are evident, suffice it to say no-one likes to take a piss in the near darkness, maybe a ratio of more than one bulb in three is asking too much. It is the ultimate irony that the diners in the Skylon restaurant ate their meals in impeccable surroundings as a gifted classical pianist gave a recital of the music of Brahms, if she looked out over the audience she would have seen the lowered lights used during performances flickering away like a fluorescent bulb on its last legs. She could not complete her recital because of the malfunctioning piano, perhaps just bad luck or maybe something more telling.
Now before I lose you all with my rantings and moanings I will get to the point, the RFH is a great building, one of my very favourites and these final fit teething snags will be rectified very quickly but it is the wider implications that are important, with thousands of people visiting a great public building to see its grand reopening it is embarrassing that this final fit should be delayed and evident to any that this greatly detracts from what should be a glorious celebration of a national treasure. The implications are this, how many times must we embarrass ourselves with our national failure to complete any public building on time and on budget, how can public trust in the abilities of our planners, architects, engineers and building trades be improved when the name of the Royal Festival Hall may now sit on our lips with the likes of The Millenium Dome, the wobbly bridge and Wembley, the Kings Cross redevelopment has hit planning problems and may well follow in this infamous list. Perhaps the GLA, Government and the London Olympic organising committee should take a long hard look at these other buildings because in 2012 it wont be one building that misses its completion date with a few snags but a whole swathe of our city and it wont be a few thousand Londoners and a handful of tourists who see the failure, the whole worlds eyes will be on us.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Brewing Up A Storm

Had the pleasure of sharing the decks with DJ and all round good bloke Simon Fraser last night as he invited me to play at his regular Bitches Brew session at La Raza in Cambridge. What started as a mellow night with a selection of chilled jazz classics turned into a full on mix up jazz dance session with the man himself dropping everything from Blue Note classics, mid nineties hip-hop, Nu Yorican latin and disco before finally departing the decks for the dancefloor to leave me playing to a surprisingly lively and responsive Monday night crowd. I continued the selection as I ran through latin funk, some new jazz dance styles, deep funk and classic Brazilian.

Thanks to all those that appreciated the music and many thanks to Simon for the invite, here's looking forward to some more soon and in the meantime if you are in or around Cambridge on a Monday night make sure you catch this regular weekly session and go and taste this unique brew of music.