In the recently refurbished iconic St Pancras Station Hotel, Tate Britatin held a launch event for its forthcominge exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites – a Victorian Avant-Garde”. St Pancras was a fitting venue for the exhibition launch – emphasising the role of the railway in the Industrial revolution, the loss of ‘camelot’ to the urban spread of product hungry suburbs, and new mechanistic technologies which challenged traditional craft skills.
The exhibition, one of series of ‘major’ exhibitions during the “Olympic Year”, (following Hockney, Freud, Hirst….) that promote quintessentialy British artists and art movements, aims to “… juxtapose paintings with works in other media including the applied arts….”.
Although the decorative and the utilitarian outpourings of the ‘Brotherhood’ was intellectually grounded in co-operative socialism the Pre-Rraphaelite movement was also were universally popular. Components which were anathema to mid Victorian “academicians”. In this day and age - where art and design practice have intermixed with each other it will be interesting to see whether the art of this ‘victorian avant garde’ will be viewed by today’s audiences as a (revolutionary) avant garde or as alien products from intergalactic luddites….
What is the role of War and what is achieved by re-presenting, overlayering and photographically generating imagery of acts of violence and aggression?
“Iraq: how, where, for whom?” generates a series of issues and questions about whether creating images of horror achieves anything, socially or politically, or whether images saturated with an artistic aesthetic – the act of arranging and placing (textures, colours, shapes) – risks overwhelming the intention. Here the aesthetic game play in ‘art’ to attract our gaze risks running counter to the unaesthetic ugliness of the subject matter.
Peter Kennard and Cat Phillips whose collaborative photomontage works rage against their country’s culture of perpetrating aggressive and illegal acts rest alongside Hanaa Malallah’s orchestrated debris from her country’s experience as a victim of these acts.
Peter Kennard has consistently produced a mass of iconic works which attack the criminal perpetrators of war. This empathetic combination from both sides has resulted in a weighty exhibition of works which should be seen.
Chris Dercon, director of the ‘Tate Modern’ – an art power house which glances at St Pauls from across the south bank of the Thames – noted that during 2012 a trilogy of art exhibitions by David Hockney, Lucienne Freud and Damien Hirst provided London with a Cultural Olympics.
Comparisons are bound to be made. But who sets the criteria for the olympic arena? who is in the line up and who gets the gold medal?
Mirror mirror on the wall who is the greatest artist of them all….?
Old masters such as Lucienne Freud (b.1922 – recently died 2011) – David Hockney (b. 1937 – staring at the abyss) – and “yba” Damien Hirst (b. 1965…..) – is, like everything else, in the process of dying.
This holy trilogy of male painters are presented as three variants of “bad boys” of British Art…. Over a period of 80 years a common thread has been pulled through each one causing a tug of war between the intentions of the artist and the interests of the art market. All three have been sucked into the “commercial art” world – and painted on demand – though Hirst seems to have been sucked in the deepest. Most conversations with him refer to money rather than art – and his practice doesn’t seem to have divined wisdom.
Damien Hirst may like to consider that unlike the other two on the “olympian podium” his art is getting old and losing its value. This exhibition must be seen to its bitter and lurid end – but make sure you stand your ground and insist that entry is free!
The global TV market represents around 1,220,000,000+ TV Households with at least one TV. The northern hemisphere continues to own the most TV sets per household unit. Russia, Europe and the US were the first TV populated regions between 1930s and 50s, followed in the next decade by Canada, South America, Australasia, China, Eastern Asia and finally Africa. TV is the global mechanism through which we are entertained and educated. It is a hugely powerful and popular medium which has embedded itself into our lives: often blamed for instigating the ills and faults of societies as much as their triumphs and achievements. It is impossible to imagine the world without TV and although we have the freedom to just switch it off we elect to turn it back on again day after day. In the half century or so since television broadcasting has been with us technological progress has occurred. The TVs of the 1930s were ‘mechanical’ systems of spinning discs reflecting synchronised electrical pulses providing ghostly transmissions. Analogue systems came with the development of more stable cathode-ray tubes whereby electrons agitate surfaces coated in phosphor to transmit signals. Analogue technology has been the established global technology throughout TV history – until very recently. With the evolution of digitisation, TV technology has converged with the “home computer”, cameras and telecommunications. The TV set is no longer the carrier of controlled set pieces – we can now scan across countries and time lines, interact with whatever when ever, actively feed into the technology as well extract from it. The quality of “picture” – colour, luminosity, dimensionality of digital is hyper-real compared to the grainy black and white images which our grandparents recall. But don’t be fooled – what we see and hear now is as “unreal”. The visual parallels to early photography and printing allowed analogue TV to be readily accepted as normal – It was only notation; radio with pictures. The new sets on the block also offer illusions: but their chroma key back drops layered with digitised images shift our sense of reality even further. Conscious that the information we receive influences our actions the more real our “eye witnessing of the event” is the more impact it has upon us. Seeing is believing or is it? No longer can we be sure. The massed analogue TVs in David Hall’s commissioned installation “End Piece…1001 TV sets” describes the current log jam for broadcasting and illustrates the massive task of shifting old technology to make way for the new. The reclining TV monitors which fill the massive abandoned industrial gallery space absent mindedly broadcast ‘repeats’ – dealing us a game of snap which emphasises programme fodder out put – most of which we wouldn’t chose to consume anyway. The viewer is confronted with both the mental and physical heat of broadcasting, the visual cacophany of 1001 pensioned off analogue TVs doomed to “NFR”. The plug will soon be pulled on analogue to be replaced by freshfaced, broad shouldered, sharp and efficient digital who promises to liberate us from national programmed TV controllers, or controlled TV programmers… and an infinite hotel in an interactive global village will appear with more services, higher quality and faster broadcasting signals, speedier downloading/ uploading.
Hidden amidst the massed monitors of “End Piece…” is David Hall’s “Stooky Bill TV” (1990). “Stooky”, produced as an unscheduled TV Interruption piece first shown on C4, presents an imaginary conversation between John Logi Baird and a ventriloqist’s dummy. Also showing in two other rooms in P3s vast industrial engineered gallery space are two of David Hall’s earlier installations: “Progressive Recession” (1974) consisting of 9 x CCTV cameras and monitors that sequentially displaces the viewer and “TV Interruptions” (1971 and 2006) an installation of 7 x TV pieces. When analogue transmission is finally turned off in London (26 April) there will be four days to experience the “….terminal audio hiss and visual sea of white noise.” But where do these synthetic carcasses end up? maybe as props in a beautifully crafted TV documentary about small third world children picking them over for a living.
Artists have been commissioned to produce works of art for centuries. The route from the “Medicis” to the “Saatchis” describes the changing states of art – but it fundamentally follows the propaganda machine of “Church and State”.
Along the route artists have been either compliant or have quietly subverted the masters’ message. Art itself is a deceptive practice – ‘ce nest pas un pipe’ expressed the illusion and it was the artist, Magritte, who illustrated the practice. Today public art is a powerful expression of corporate taste. Decisions which determine what we see ‘in public’ are not necessarily arrived at through democratic process whether commissions are paid for through the public or the private purse. The Greater London Authority’s “Fourth Plinth” art commission project had a stab at bringing some democracy into the process but again the process is rooted into a very selective starting point and given criteria - a list of artists are invited to submit work from which ‘experts’ determine a winner. Given the very public world heritage site in which the ‘Fourth Plinth’ is located – Trafalgar Square – there is generous acceptance that the works exhibited should have some prestige as well as be of high quality. In some way this has perpetuated a culture of safe practice with safe artists ‘being asked’ to produce predictable works. Yet the “4th Plinth” project has challenged this precept and most of the works to date have not been disappointing.
The ‘Fourth Plinth’ itself is contentious. There are many established influential pressure groups who have plans for that space and arguments for maintaining traditional approaches. The intellectual tussle between the “conservative traditionalists” and the “progressives” is constantly overlaid with the suffocating regal spoiler about carbuncles and old friends.
Thankfully the future of the “4th plinth” appears to have been secured for the progressives with the conservatives yeilding to public pressure in support for the project. After the political regime change in the Greater London Authority, the body which “manages” Trafalgar Square, there were attempts to get rid of this contemporary upstart by gerrymandering tactics of putting yet another Military war hero on the plinth (Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park). A truce was called and the day was saved. With all it’s inherent faults the 4th Plinth project continues to provide a brilliantly generous opportunity for artists. It’s quality of thought is borne out of a socialist policy that insists on space for free cultural / artistic expression without fear. To counter the traditionalists argument – the contemporary “fourth plinth” gives itself up to display those very principles fought for by the stone faced warriors who surround the square – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.
The plinth commission shows that artists can still confound those who are rigidly set as the arbiters of culture and controllers of ‘taste’: Antony Gormley introduced elements into the work which democratised the process by allotting the space on top of the plinth for an hour to anyone who wanted to be there – exorcising the plinth from its pedestal past through 2400 people taking up his offer. Other artists have approached the space more traditionally but all with a twist – Yinka Shonibare placed a ship in a bottle, the ship being Nelson’s “Victory” but with sails of printed ‘African’ fabric – Marc Quinn located ‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’, a huge marble torso-bust of a naked disabled woman – nordic artists Elmgreen & Dragset’s child’s nursery rocking horse made of bronze playfully challenges the militarist equestrian statues which rear up across London.
The ethos embedded in each of the works shown so far needs to enter into the process of how public art commissions are procured. Public art sails close to the “cultural fascism” of the Medicis and the Saatchis. Artists can manipulate the situation they find themselves in but the direction we go is determined by the position of feet and the first steps taken. In May this year there is an election for a Mayor of London and positions may change – who ever the mayor may be artists need to continue to protect their rights and achieve those rights we don’t yet have.
AND Is holding a series of ‘sunday discussions’ on artist rights (resale, exhibition, intellectual property and copy rights) as well as economics and welfare (percent for arts, placements, commissions).
For a number of years May Ayres has transposed her skills as an illustrator to ceramics. At the same time both the strength and fragility of the high fired stoneware oxidation ceramics lends itself to the subject matter she has pursued – the human condition in extreme situations. Not natural conditions but cruel situations – ones manufactured by tyrants and oppressors: of war and peace-time torture. In the discourse of art equating to beauty May acknowledges that some of her works are ‘horrible’. They are not intended to be “liked” – they are about ‘horrible subjects’. Yet it is difficult not to ‘like’ these beautifully crafted works, their drawn and glazed surfaces struggle with the awkward anatomy of characters deformed by their corruption. She skillfully uses the leaden weight of the clay slumping in submission then fired up to challenge the cruel domination of the oppressor. Her book “Ceramic Pictures”, published by AND, is a visual documentation of the recent exhibition “God’s Wars”. The accompanying essay by Mick Perry, eloquently tells the stories which are hidden behind each piece. May’s work ‘Amal’ is showing in the “Peace-CON+flict” exhibition at AND eventSpace One.