Monday, 29 October 2012

Spying on Zombies: Vacant Lots at WW Gallery

Suzie Hamilton, 9 paintings displayed in a group, 2012, oil on canvas.

The dreaded weekly shop. Much like a zombie I walk the aisles of Asda, picking up the same packets, cans, bottles and frozen foods every week while other, slightly irritated zombies, do the same around me. We never make eye contact.

Hamilton's paintings add a tinge of sad loneliness to the story of the supermarket trip, there is a dark dripping wet feel to the them, an inevitability of the trip and of our own deterioration. Meanwhile Germzde's sketchily painted plastic lids showing artificially illuminated aisles almost look glitzy. But we know the truth, these aisles stretch on forever in an overly bright horror film of repetition.

None of this is without humour, a reminder  of the absurdity of our habits and the necessity of routine to stay alive exploited by the sprawling unreality of the supermarket.

Inguna Gremzde, Life in  Plastic World, 2012, oil on plastic lids. 

I like the story behind Hamilton's film. Split into four images, it feels like CCTV capturing our monotonous semi conscious laps. Documented on film via Hamilton's excellent use of spy glasses.

Suzie Hamilton, Shopper, 2012, looped video.

Corinna Spencer

Vacant Lots
Suzie Hamilton & Inguna Gremzde
WW Gallery, London EC1
10 October - 10 November 2012

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bread and Circuses: Frieze 2012

Evren Tekinoktay, Smoke, 2012, The Approach

There’s nothing like a trip to Frieze to make you feel completely detached from the art world. Which might not be so great if you’re an artist. So now that the global travelling circus has left town, what still sticks?

There wasn’t anything nearly as nasty as last year’s autographed superyacht. The commissioned projects by Frieze Foundation (the non-profit organisation responsible for the curated programme of talks, films, etc) included Turkish artist, Aslı Çavuşoğlu’s Murder in Three Acts, where a crime drama performed by a professional crew and actors was filmed live; and the Colosseum of the Consumed collaboration between Grizedale Arts and the Chinese artists Yangjiang Group involving a programme of food-related performances. The makeshift colosseum itself enabled spectators to look down at various activities below. Like the Bread and Circuses of ancient Rome, these amusing spectacles detract from the superstore transactions that are the business at the heart of the fair. Maybe there should be more of them.

Meanwhile, in the chaotic stalls, purposefully arranged everyday objects furnished a nostalgic nod to more domestic environments. Korean artist, Haegue Yang’s venetian blinds delicately floated over Kukje Gallery.

Haegue Yang, Flip Fleet Flow Units, 2012, Kukje Gallery
A solid totem pole of lampshades called Rose-marie, which I hoped was by Charlotte Squire but was in fact by Scottish artist, Andrew Miller, illuminated Ingleby Gallery, and glass light bulbs were grouped on ply in Untitled (16), 2012 by Phillip Lai at Stuart Shave/Modern Art. A glass sculpture of vases, cake stands and bowls on a grid of shelves made up The Sixth Continent by Anna Molska at the Broadway 1602 stand. 

Anna Molska, The Sixth Continent, 2012, Broadway 1602
Flattened out, graphic interiors were also pictured in Jonas Wood’s paintings at David Kordansky Gallery.

Jonas Wood, Interior with Fireplace (detail), 2012
David Kordansky Gallery

Jonas Wood, Grey Shio Still Life (detail), 2012
David Kordansky Gallery

The prize for the stand-out stand goes to the exceptionally well fabricated MOT International with Elizabeth Price’s film West Hinder, 2012 where carpeted walls led into a quiet, personal cinema space, complete with helpful unFrieze-like staff offering information about the screening.

In its wake, Frieze has left behind a trail of free blockbuster exhibitions at the big galleries including Luc Tuymans at David Zwirner until 17 Nov, Chris Ofili at Victoria Miro until 10 Nov and Peter Doig at Michael Werner Gallery until Dec. There is more Elizabeth Price at the Turner Prize, Tate Britain until Jan 2013 and I’m looking forward to continuing my own domestic thread with interior provocations by Matthew Darbyshire: T Rooms, at Zabludowicz Collection, until Dec. Also, a reminder that this weekend is the last chance to see Paul Housley’s latest paintings at Poppy Sebire, don’t miss it!

Alli Sharma

Oh, here are some black and white moments:

Akram Zaatari, Studio Sheherazade, Couples, 2012
Hashem Madani

Silke Otto-Knapp, Winter Trees, 2012
Cindy Sherman, Untitled 510, 1977/2011, Spruth Magers 
Klara Kristalova, Untitled, 2010-2012

Raymond Pettibon, David Zwirner

Gillian Carnegie, Untitled, 2011
Galerie Gisela Capitain

 And some colourful ones:

Alexis Marguerite Teplin, Untitled, 2012
Mary Mary

Chantal Joffe Victoria Miro

Kaye Donachie, Maureen Paley

Karen Kilimnick, the merry sheep of olde England, 2012,
303 Gallery
Waldemar Zimbelmann, Untitled, 2012
Meyer Riegger

Makiko Kudo, Blanket (detail), 2012

Varda Caivano, Untitled, 2011-12
Victoria Miro

George Shaw, We Are Building an Old World, 2012

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Seventh Seal: How Do We Think We Know What We Don’t Know & What Does This Have To Do With Ingmar Bergman?

Within the canon of classic cinema there are a relatively modest number of titles that have come to define the medium. These enduring and oft-cited works form the foundation upon which is built our understanding of the cinematic language. Established masterpieces, from Citizen Kane (1941) to Apocalypse Now (1979), become cultural touchstones, repeatedly recognised and referenced in classroom and casual conversation alike. It’s ironic, however, that in once having earned an exalted and timeless status, the idea of an iconic film begins to exist outside of - and eventually overwhelm - the movie itself. 

Consider Ingmar Bergman’s dark 1958 masterpiece, The Seventh Seal. Despite many years as an enthusiastic amateur cineaste, a frustrated writer, a brief period at art school and an even briefer period as a mediocre artist, I somehow never managed to watch The Seventh Seal. Of course, I knew of it. I knew what it was about. I knew it was important. I’d even confidently referenced it a number of times in essays or articles without feeling the slightest twinge of guilty duplicity.

The prevalence of such unqualified casual referencing is a defining feature of any artistry that manages to have a wider impact beyond the confines of its medium. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is often held up by people who haven’t seen it as being a bloody high watermark in gory splatter cinema – it’s not: it’s intense and visceral, but virtually bloodless. The music of Leonard Cohen is often referenced by people who’ve never really listened to him as shorthand for any dour and depressing dirge – it’s not: he may explore dark places but has a playful wit that often belies his themes. So how do we think we know what we don’t know – and how does Bergman fit into all of this? 

Popular work in any medium attracts a vigorous gallimaufry of conversation, study, analysis, parody and homage in such exhaustive volume that it almost becomes the work in itself. Think of The Seventh Seal and you will likely recall the famous scene of Max von Sydow’s noble Knight playing his literal and metaphorical game of chess with the white faced and black cowled figure of Death. You might recognise the story of the Knight, his squire and friends from the opening track of Scott Walker’s seminal 1969 album, Scott 4. Perhaps you have seen Woody Allen’s most direct homage to Bergman’s movie in his 1975 satire on Russian literature, Love and Death (1975). Bergman’s Death has also made innumerable cameos as a solo artist. I suspect my first meeting with him was in the less auspicious but far more explosive Last Action Hero (1993) – where he stepped out of the cinema screen, freshly reincarnated as Sir Ian McKellen and ready to face Arnold Schwarzenegger’s meta movie cop. You could also find Death appearing in Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot Comics and later joining Bill and Teds Bogus Journey (1991), which left me thinking that Death really didn’t seem to have much else to do in the 90’s and it was a wonder that anyone managed to die in the decade at all.

When I finally watched The Seventh Seal for the very first time about two years ago, I was surprised to find that while the story did indeed seem familiar, it was not in the way I was expecting.

The Seventh Seal concerns Von Sydow’s disillusioned Knight, Antonius Block and his Squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) returning home to Denmark after many years fighting the Crusades. They find their country ravaged by plague and the population hysterical and terrified that the world as they know it is coming to an end. Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come to claim the Knight but first acquiesces to a final game of chess. The longer that the Knight can stall the game, the longer he will be allowed to live. As the game progresses, the Knight and squire travel through the embattled land to reach the Knight’s castle home, where Block’s wife waits and where they hope to be safe from the plague.

The chess game is a fabulously elegant conceit; the sparring dialectic of the conversations between Death and the Knight are as important as the moves of the pieces themselves. It’s clear from the outset that this is a game the Knight can never hope to win, but the implication is that the longer he lasts, the closer he will be to making peace with his faith, his purpose and his own mortality. In believing he can cheat death, the Knight is a cypher for the hubris of all humankind. We need to believe that there is a meaning in the dark chaos of life and that we are in the service of some greater truth. Luckily, in between all this strategic supernatural gaming, the Knight and squire also encounter a series of allegorical vignettes on their travels that serve to elaborate on Death’s bleak treatise.

Along the way, the Knight sees many things that challenge his faith in an absentee God who allows such horror and suffering and in the value of the ‘humanity’ that perpetrates these acts on themselves. They encounter a witch burning, an apocalyptic procession of flagellants, rape, murder and corpse robbing.  In amongst the misery, the only glimpse of hope in the gloomy and oppressive tableaux is found in the company of the simple Squire and a quirky group of travelling actors. They are led by a young family in whom the Knight sees a good-natured honesty and simple innocence. It is in his recognition of these qualities that Block finds some form of salvation for humanity, placing them first under his protection and eventually making a final sacrifice to allow them to escape Death.

The influence exerted by this most singular movie is surprisingly broad. The sophisticated iconoclasm of Bergman’s style established a template for modernist arthouse cinema, the brutality of the Middle Ages is reawakened in the portentous atmosphere of Hammer Horror, whilst the oft overlooked dark comedy has clearly been revisited by the Monty Python team. However, despite the embrace of genre cinema, The Seventh Seal never feels anachronistic or synthetic. What makes the film compellingly timeless – and appear so comfortably familiar - is that between the thematic tangles of religion, mortality and existentialism, it is also a story about the power of the story itself.

The Knight believes that immortality can come through great achievements, such as the noble Crusade or the grand hubristic act of cheating Death. But Block comes to realise there is nothing noble in the grandiose narratives of religion or power. Those are stories that have led only to death and destruction. Instead, Bergman seems to be suggesting that if there is any God at all, it is artists and performers, painters, storytellers and clowns – possibly even filmmakers - who are nearer to any truth than either those they depict or those who lead them.

If the story seems peculiarly familiar it is because, like the folk tale or oral histories that have shaped our culture and identity, it is designed to evoke that same sense of anamnesis. It does not feel like a new story, instead it is more like a tale we have unforgotten, one that has always been there, evolving and changing as it is shared. Although clearly inspired by a deep history of literature, drawing on elements from the Old Testament to Faust to Don Quixote, it’s almost a surprise to discover it is a wholly original contemporary script.
The Seventh Seal remains a powerful yet accessible film, as relevant today as it was almost 50 years ago. On reflection, it’s appropriate that this – above all Bergman’s canon – should be the movie that has most entered the collective consciousness because it was calculatedly designed that way.  It embraces the notion that the story can and should transcend its medium, which in turn celebrates the unqualified commentator in us all. This is a reassuring reminder that, should you ever again find yourself stumbling into an unqualified opinion on art, politics or history, this is not a bad thing at all; rather you are just contributing to an extension of an essential storytelling tradition.

Matthew Barnett                   

Monday, 15 October 2012

Don’t Throw Tomatoes at Frieze Masters

Frieze was frenetic this year – tomatoes zoomed around the performance arena of Grizedale Arts' Colosseum of the Consumed construction, strange looking international collectors roamed the narrow isles in packs and galleristas stood primped and pumped ready to spring into action at the slightest sniff of money. Meanwhile the masses looked on, voyeuring at what they supposed was a glimpse into the art world. Well sorry to disappoint but this is not an art world that any artist I know recognises. Despite the best attempts of Grizedale’s food themed performances it was an empty, vacuous, art supermarket, the commissioned ‘Frieze Projects’ some kind of superficial sugar frosting to give the whole thing an art-like veneer. Frieze is not a place for artists – it is the dirty side of the business and if you are of a delicate disposition and want to carry on believing the art dream you should not go. 

Grizedale Arts, Colosseum of the Consumed, performance by William Pope 1 

So after a gruelling few hours I made my way with a heavy heart to Frieze Masters which as I’m sure everyone knows by now is the grown up, old art, version of Frieze. Officially described as ‘an opportunity to see and buy work ranging from the ancient era and old masters to art of the 20th century’ it promised to make the link between old and new art. I was cynical but as soon as I stepped into the huge Masters tent the atmosphere was different. The masses had thinned, the isles were wider and the colour scheme was a calming grey instead of the glacial white cube of Frieze. 

Frieze Masters, 2012

Frieze Masters was in fact a revelation, full of museum quality art that was also incidentally if you were interested, for sale. Each booth seemed to have been thoughtfully curated, many of them had exhibitions themed around a single artists or movement. Lots of work, even if I had not seen it before was very familiar. 

Dorothea Tanning

Looking at extensive displays of Morandi, Klimt and Schiele, early Warhol Drawings and Dorothea Tanning was as enjoyable and soothing as stepping into a warm bath. 

Andy Warhol

Photography was also very strong with whole stands devoted to William Eggleston (Victoria Miro), Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus. As well as these familiar friends there were also new discoveries such as a display of very strange looking 16th Century wooden horses by Juan Chaéz at Coll & Cortés Fine Arts which were a nice counterpoint to some ancient Chinese pottery horses at Ben Janssens Oriental Art. 

Juan Chaéz

The link between old and new art was also much in evidence – a wall of Picabia ink drawings at Galerie 1900 v 2000 a direct predecessor to Raymond Pettibon’s work. 

Francis Picabia

The Spotlight section featured single-artist shows by lesser-known artists – mainly from the 70s. One of the highlights Lygia Pape’s thread installation at Galeria Graça Brandao was beautiful, and flagged up a technique and aesthetic that is being revived in many contemporary works. 

Lygia Pape

There were some blurred lines between the two fairs – Alice Neel for instance was in evidence at Frieze proper while surely she would have made more sense at Masters, while the only Luc Tuymans I saw was at Frieze Masters. This aside Frieze Masters was an enriching experience and a fun place to play the ‘if I had the money what would I buy’ game (in a bit of a left field choice I’ve decided to go for one of Natalia Gontcharova’s 1930’s drawings of Tudor-style ladies at Galerie 1900 v 2000). Roll on Frieze Masters 2013.

Cathy Lomax 

Natalia Gontcharova

Frieze London and Frieze Masters
11–14 October 2012

Friday, 12 October 2012

Performance as Punchline at Tate Britain

Tate Britain used to be the top gallery in London, but then Tate Modern turned up with a better location and more interesting collection. Since then, the original Tate has been trying to find its place in the contemporary London art world, proving that it’s still relevant and cutting edge by holding the attention-grabbing Turner prize and the occasional special event.

I had come to see one of those special events, a performance art showcase in the Late at Tate strand. First off was Ellie Harrison’s The Redistribution Of Wealth. Music was playing and some coloured lights shone onto low stages in the large gallery space off the Sackler Octogon. I hung out for a while, waiting for something to happen, whilst the artist took photos of children dancing under the spotlights. When I read the description of the artwork it turned out that the lights and the stages were it, so I wandered back into the main hall.

Ellie Harrison

I hung around for a bit, sticking my head into the 20th Century section to look for Jordan McKenzie and Aaron Williamson’s performance, but neither the attendants nor myself knew where to find it. I waited patiently for art to happen in that fancy marbled corridor between 20th Century and Old Stuff, and before long Hunt and Darton did a neat piece that I enjoyed, touching on sport and fandom.

I finally found McKenzie and Williamson performing Veneration X. Dressed in robes, the artists lay face down in the gallery. The object of their idolatry was a piece of gallery information about the work on show. It was a great visual joke, mocking the seriousness of the gallery, but it didn’t seem like it could go anywhere beyond that. 

I made my exit via the Turner galleries, where Fiona Templeton’s Bodies of Memory was taking place. An artist was slowly walking around and telling a story, another man was singing Staying Alive in a falsetto from under one of the gallery’s seats, and a loud, angry talk was being given in Spanish by a young woman. Checking the guide, I saw that these were the ‘collective recollections of many past performances’.

For me, one of the problems with performance art is that it's too often it's own punchline. Where can you go from singing ‘ah ah ah ah, staying alive, staying alive’ next to paintings of Britain’s greatest painter? What did succeed was the chaos brought into the otherwise staid environment, turning the gallery into a living space, no longer just dutifully venerating Turner. Finally, the night felt alive with the possibility that something weird could happen.

Turner Galleries at Tate Britain

A gallery space is, by necessity, a staid space, where a static status is imposed. It’s a simulacrum of a bygone era when people would commission oil paintings of great events rather than re-tweet them. One of the biggest functions of Tate-type galleries is to force you to see the paintings in a way that makes sense, and in this the Late at Tate event failed. The surroundings were too grand, and despite the momentary excitement at disturbing Turner, the material delivered suffered from comparison to the linage of classical paintings.

Performance art is something relatively new, hardly related to the art of Turner-style landscapes. Performance artists can carve out their own new spaces, where work can be examined without the pressures of gallery-style conformity.

Pete Hindle

Late at Tate: Acts of Legacy
Programmed by New Work Network
Tate Britain
5th October 2012