Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957-2012, Hayward Gallery

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s the hottest day of the year and I’m standing in the best exhibition ever.

The ‘Air Conditioning’ Show is a recreation of a 1966 endeavour by no-frills collaborative artist group Art & Language and included in the Hayward’s overarching retrospective on ‘invisible’ artwork.

On second thoughts, Art & Language were just frills. The room is completely empty save for those lovely lovely air conditioning units. Outside hang a series of academic texts describing the significance of the artwork in increasingly overblown terms. Art & Language, tellingly, were interested in the qualifying force of the language surrounding art rendering the need for the artwork itself obsolete. And, I quote, their piece is “securely rooted in the perusal tradition, so long as one considers them in the context of particularising characteristics at an observational level”. Bravo.

I continue my perusal tradition into the warmer climes of the Hayward sprawl and am met with obstacles; invisible wall labels are pretty hard to read. Ever so slightly visible wall labels are only ever so slightly easier to read. I like to read and this annoys me. I am not the only cross-eyed visitor entertaining this enduring gimmickry by standing nose to wall only to be rewarded with a raft of spelling mistakes. And, now I’m in a bad mood and sweating and making cheap shots like ‘there’s far too much stuff here for an invisible show’ and I don’t like this exhibition anymore.

So, now I shall give some more rational reasons as to why:

Every few years immaterial artwork comes into fashion; it’s not an original idea. The Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art presented carefully considered ‘The Nothing’, a touring exhibition in 2002 and most recently ‘Vides (voids): A Retrospective’ at the Pompidou Centre, Paris in 2009 that took the bold move of truly showing nothing; emptying seven large adjoining rooms of the Pompidou and publishing a comprehensive catalogue. The Hayward has printed a slim, scant catalogue superficially introducing each participating artist in a couple of paragraphs. Digestible yes, depth no. They have also dispensed with the much-loved mini booklets usually given to visitors at the entrance. Must have been too ‘seeable’.

‘Invisible’ is like ‘Videsfor dummies. It has nothing of the selectivity of the Pompidou Centre show, includes many of the same works by the same artists; Yves Klein, Art & Language, Robert Barry, Roman Ondák, Bethan Huws… spelled out (incorrectly) as well as pretty much everything else they could think of with the most tenuous of links to the theme. It reminds me of the classic ‘one size fits all’ exhibition model allowing little space or sensitivity to the complexities of each individual work by ring-fencing and ramming them all together. Like sitting down and deciding ‘let’s make a show about chewing gum and everything that has any reference, however remote, to chewing gum and voila! Exhibition!’

Some of the most thought-provoking works are hung unassumingly under the staircase and are all too easily missed. I refer to photos of Jochen Gerz’s 2146 Steine – Mahmal gegen Rassismus/ Das unsichtbar Mahnmal (2146 Stones – Monument against Racism). A work carried out at night and in secret, Gerz removed the cobblestones outside the parliament buildings of Saarbrucken (that once housed the Gestapo) replacing them with ones engraved on the underside with the names of pre-war Jewish cemeteries. Together in this cramped annexe are pictures of Horst Hoheisel’s negative monument Achsrottbrunnen (Kassel 1987); a buried mirror image construction of a fountain given to the city of Kassel by a Jewish businessman and later destroyed by the Nazis, only the foundations remaining visible. Hoheisel cleans these personally every week and was recently joined in his quiet commemorative act by curator of Documenta 13 Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.

You have to enter through the gift shop- another pet hate.

You have to leave through a playground like installation Invisible Labyrinth, 2005, by Danish artist Jeppe Hein where one must navigate an infra-red maze with the aid of a vibrating headset that buzzes when you hit an unseen wall. That is if you choose to participate. Immediately beforehand is Teresa Margolles’ contribution Aire/Air, 2003, another empty room with another two air conditioning units. However, her coolant of choice is the water that was used to wash the bodies of unknown murder victims in Mexican mortuaries. The reasoning behind the decision to place one of the most unnerving exhibits directly next to the most playful escapes me.

I positively run back into the scorching outdoor heat.

12 June – 5 August 2012

Artists include: Art & Language, Robert Barry, Chris Burden, James Lee Byars, Maurizio Cattelan, Jay Chung, Song Dong, Tom Friedman, Carsten Höller, Tehching Hsieh, Bruno Jakob, Yves Klein, Lai Chih-Sheng, Glenn Ligon, Teresa Margolles, Gianni Motti, Roman Ondák, Ceal Floyer, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol


Joy in People, Jeremy Deller at the Hayward

April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bestiality Impresses Rubber Ducks, British Indecision Reaps Distress, Being Is Ridiculously Drab… If nothing else, Deller’s retrospective imparts the knowledge that the standard of toilet wall graffiti in the 90s was pretty high.  Foucault is referenced, as is Sartre and Pascal and doing something indescribable to Germaine Greer.

Transcribed from the original men’s facilities of the British Library, a place where Deller spent considerable time conducting a special kind of research that culminated in an artist’s book Pensées; a collection of the more memorable turns of phrase, some of which are displayed again here in a gallery reconstruction of his own loo.

The loo is the threshold from which the main body of the exhibition springs forth and toilet intellectualism sets the tone for the retrospective and indeed, Deller’s early career. Marrying high art with low culture his influences include The Simpsons, Peter Stringfellow (in whose club he organised the exhibition Butterfly Ball) and pop music. Deller has commissioned brass bands to play acid jazz, parades commemorating Manchester’s closed entertainment venues, tributes to the Manic Street Preachers and staged situational slapstick comedy sequences in seaside towns. And, they’re just his minor works…

Deller is also the Turner Prize winning coordinator of scenarios, rarely referring to himself as an artist, he organises interventions and staged events often reliant on the participation of groups of powerless people with powerful emotions. He is best known for The Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a ‘battle reenactment’ of an infamous miners riot involving many of the original rioters and to which a room within the exhibition is dedicated.

A difficult artist to ‘retrospect’ Deller doesn’t actually make things (but hell, who does these days?), so the show is experiential, a retrospective with all the embarrassing bits left in. You enter head on into puberty, into a recreation of Deller’s childhood bedroom; his unsuccessful attempts at getting girlfriends, collections of beer mats and band shirts his single bed, silly notes and angsty scribblings emerging to a great big black wall pronouncing a potential teenage mantra and deliberate inversion of the show’s title ‘I heart Melancholy’. It soon gives way to a jumble of relics from previous projects and a video introducing the others that left little trace, trademark co-optive playfulness and free cups of tea in a 90s workers cafe.

But, then visitors are ambushed with a sudden coming of age, Orgreave closely followed by It is What It is 2009 a bombed out car from Baghdad that Deller towed around America. A slow starter, Deller has grown up and grown serious fast, the final work in the exhibition being a reflective video of bats in flight, creatures Deller regards as more highly evolved than the human race.

Appearing anomalous at first, the video permits itself an unravelling. These communal creatures tells us more about the attributes that appeal to Deller within human nature; the chaotic coming together to sudden seemingly choreographed moments of unison. Sinister and celebratory in turn, the toilet humour has long been left behind.

22 February – 13 May 2012

Hairy, Dirty, Angry Old Apes, Richard Grayson at Matt’s Gallery

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Everyone knows pop stars have nothing to say. Fortunately, Roy Harper doesn’t class himself as one… which is for the best as the ‘legendary singer-songwriter’ talks for eighty minutes solid in Richard Grayson’s most recent video offering shown on a single screen with headphones in the cavernous Matt’s Gallery.

Not that Roy Harper wouldn’t have loved to be a pop star, he would have loved the fans, the women fans, the orgies with loads of women fans… he would have written pop songs all day and employed Max Clifford on PR but, alas, no matter how hard he tried Harper couldn’t write those pop songs….

This is the man in his own words, a folk/rock musician who has sung with Kate Bush and Pink Floyd and Jimmy Page,  well remembered by the swingers of the 60s but never quite becoming so popularised as the aforementioned. Those comments are taken from just one of a series of sprawling and tenuously interlinked monologues with subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. Expressions of love for Beatnik poetry and French cigarettes, of hatred for Tony Blair (who apparently is a popstar… and a pisstaker) and turning repeatedly to the great subjects of God, politics, culture and religion.

Religion is a sticking point, something he has sung about many times and in the most softly spoken lilting voice comes venom; Harper is vehemently anti-religion describing it as ‘at best tribalism, at worst racism’ condemning our current and ‘ particularly annoying pope’. There are snatches of sardonic brilliance, in which he claims that ‘religion beggars belief’ but we also see how Harper meanders his way towards these nuggets of wry wisdom. He is willingly, happily exposed.

Grayson’s own practise as both artist and curator revolves around belief systems and the construction of alternate and personalised realities, (see curated projects A Secret Service: Art, Compulsion, Concealment 2006/7, Hayward Gallery Touring, Sydney Biennale 2002 (The World May be) Fantastic). The appeal of his subject matter, of Harper is clear. Harper is a gentle visionary slipping smoothly from individualised statements on why and how we live to the seemingly anecdotal; collecting birds eggs as a child, the decline of sparrows and the proliferation of magpies. The analogous potential abounds and the glimmer in Harper’s clear blue eyes never fades, there is no nostalgia when thinking on the past and an obtuse humour infects many of his more memorable turns of phrase. We are listening to a man’s inner monologue as he reflects upon life, his own and that in general.

Culture is the subject most reflected on (with an intriguing tangent into bioculture). Based on interpretation, culture is viewed by Harper as the evolution of interpretation in immeasurable forms; penicillin from mould, engines from iron ore, songs from sorrow. But, that all art, all culture is essentially dedicated to the effort of figuring out exactly who we are. Grayson, with little interference, allows a man to completely open himself to this process and this very interpretation, a modest musical stalwart himself becomes an object of the culture he describes… and without it we are merely what the title of this review suggests.

The Magpie Index

18 January – 12 February

All I Can See is the Management, Gasworks

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I thought this exhibition would make me feel very left out. I’ve never worked for any substantial period in an office environment. I have no boss to hate, no co-workers to dislike, no staff to share a slightly crap christmas party with… I prefer to inhabit the free spirited world of the perpetually panic-stricken ‘freelancer’ and I become acutely aware of this during the festive season.

So, no better time to visit a show called ‘All I Can See is the Management’ because I all too often can’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, hiding. How naïve of me to think myself exempt. The management is everywhere, creeping into all aspects of existence as this cleverly curated exhibition presents. It’s presence is felt at school, in social situations even in the home…

Which is where the exhibition opens and the setting of the video from which the title is borrowed: a satirical spin on typical domestic TV dramas, Distinct (1979) by Stuart Marshall. In it a couple self consciously role-play the various gender politics of the home, assessing their effectiveness throughout, alternately taking charge of the situation. At one point the home is compared to an unproductive factory and this becomes a running theme throughout All I Can See is the Management. In Allan Sekula’s series of neat diagrams School is a Factory, (1978-80) the education establishment is analogous to a governmental department turning out ‘products’ to fit demand. Sitting appropriately alongside Sekula but with an altogether more obtuse message is Amy Feneck’s video Governmental Workers (2010) where calm scenes of children behaving appropriately within their setting is, according to the press release, a comment on the top-down regulation of student behaviour. Architectural choreography is surely appropriate within a school, as is hierarchy. The comment, if there is one, is lost.

Certainly not the case with the Co-Operative Explanatory Capabilities in Organisational Design and Personnel Management (2010). The nebulous idea of productivity once again is paramount and explored with acerbic wit in Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s entertainingly alarmist video featuring a fictive narrative of a sham office established purely to monitor the unwitting employees productivity levels. It backfires. They turn feral.

Conversely, in real life the workers fear of productive failings is altogether more repressed and troublingly portrayed in Filipa Cesar’s video Rapport (2007) of a Neuro-Linguistic Programming workshop. Fly on the wall documentary style, such as this piece, with no overt interference by the artist features heavily as an honesty reassurance device (see also Darcy Lange’s Work Studies in Schools (1976-77)). A technique exposing the hidden manipulations of the subject serving to highlight a prevailingly veiled form of sly subjugation. In Rapport we see tears and tortured souls confessing their worst views of themselves, all too often a fear of not being creative enough or lacking ideas… Not a fate that befell Victorian maid Hannah Cullwick whose extraordinary photographic series displays her in various ‘class drag’ guises from aristocratic gentleman to black slave. The photos are re-enacted by artists Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz’s Normal Work (2007) video and serves as an effective counterpoint; the roles we adopt are role-play and by no means fixed.

But, back to the case in hand, teasing out emotional breakdowns is just a part of modern day management moulding, nothing to worry about, dear. The company can shape your mind, body and soul. Management becomes life, life becomes management and the jargon becomes unstoppably normalised. Now as our once-upon-a-time neatly compartmentalised existences melt ever more together whilst simultaneously falling apart to the tinny ping of a smartphone and exemplified no better than in an email, from an investment fund manager to a romantic interest, that recently went viral. In it he outlines her ‘serious relationship potential’ and shared interests equating to time efficiency. She never returned his calls. This case illustrates one of the key points of AICSITM, the unhealthy leakage of personal, social and work life endemic of our generation. It’s timely, to call up for questioning corporate cultural subjects from the late 70s, another era on the brink of recession. We can appreciate the prophetic trajectory bourne of the era, the ignored warnings. An affecting show and a disconcerting message, indeed.

Disclaimer: I realise several artists are omitted from this review. This should not be taken as a report on their failings or relevance. In all honesty I ran out of viewing time. I’ll endeavour towards better efficiency. Perhaps I need a manager…

7 October – 11 December 2011
Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, KP Brehmer, Filipa César, Eulàlia, Amy Feneck, Pil & Galia Kollectiv, Darcy Lange, Stuart Marshall, Allan Sekula

Curated by Antonia Blocker, Robert Leckie and Helena Vilalta

Some critique with your Tea, Vicar? Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre, Hauser & Wirth

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m feeling pretty inadequate.

I’m at a dance with a friend, she has been solicited three times already.

I stand alone.

My friend is 79.

Like I said, I’m feeling pretty inadequate.

I’m also at Piccadilly Community Centre, an initiative set up by Hauser and Wirth, London who invited eminence grise behind the project; Swiss artist Christoph Büchel. You may never have heard of him so allow me to introduce Buchel the King of immersionist installations, the mid career artist who doesn’t like to be mentioned. He’s the higher brow version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you chase this artist through different scenarios that vanish as quickly as they appear. Part satirist, part sociologist, part commentator, part paranoid schizophrenic… the list continues, his constructed realities attempt to ask us to question our own.

Buchel was previously behind the conversion of an old Coppermill off Brick Lane into a flophouse in Simply Botiful, 2007, the transformation of galleries into tanning salons, gaming arcades, fitness studios and morgues. Other activities include auctioning off his invitation to Manifesta 4 on eBay and hiding a cheque for an exhibition’s entire budget within the empty space awaiting its discovery by one lucky visitor.

One thing that won’t be found at Piccadilly Community centre however, is the artist’s name. Not that anyone there really cares.

For the Piccadilly Community Centre is fully functional, (almost) convincing and rendered down to exquisitely tacky detail; stuffy lino clad rooms, an accurately crap website, haphazard notice-boards and wonderfully badly hung watercolours abound. Elderly regulars stalk the corridors sipping lukewarm tea whilst a charity shop on the top floor plies its trade…

But, hang on, why is there an enormous Tory party display amongst the bric-a-brac? Come to think of it, why, upon entering the centre is one met with an abandoned Pay Day Advance counter? Why, pray tell, does a sign hang above the door proclaiming ‘WE CASH GOLD’??

…. No, no it couldn’t be….could it? Could The Piccadilly Community Centre really….. be about Broken Britain?! About the skewed idea of a Big Society? About the alarming adoption of leftist rhetoric by the Conservatives? Could the squalid recreation of a squat up in the Centre’s rafters, replete with filthy mattresses, decaying takeaway boxes and porn magazines, be something to do with this….

The locals running their Algerian cake baking, Indian aromatherapy head massage and laptop workshops downstairs couldn’t care less about this either. Not about the message, nor about the centre’s status as ‘art’ project. They are simply there to do their thing, overlooking the hoards, on possibly one of the most expensive addresses in central London.

Despite it’s appearances, this project was not cheap. The deceptively authentic naffness has been reconstructed to enormous expense. The space was previously your typical whitewashed gallery hall. False floors have been cleverly constructed, each item carefully sourced, a cheesy dancefloor and full bar erected in the basement together with several meeting rooms, counselling office and gym studio.

Superficially, Piccadilly Community Centre works wonders, but underneath the meticulous veneer the message is confused. It’s a recreation of a council run centre but the Big Society promotes independently run undertakings, is it critiquing one or the other or both? Or, neither? There’s a Nativity scene locked in a safe on the basement dance floor, is this a reference to the marginalisation of religion in pursuit of less salubrious entertainment and a culture of cheap thrills and bleak consequences? Oh who cares, I’m going hula-hooping….

13 May – 30 July 2011

Take Care of Yourself

March 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Breaking up is hard, particularly if you’re breaking up with Sophie Calle.

… and via email. In poorly constructed prose.  Prenez Soin de Vous (Take Care of Yourself) is an encyclopaedia of heartbreak with 107 entries. Calle constructed her tome by raising an army of women inviting each to respond to the said break-up email in the language of their profession. The language of the author is somewhat lacking as is, unfortunately, his sense of self. And so the linguists immediately claw at the enemy’s grammatical misgivings, the analysts and therapists at those of his character and the token parrot (yes, a genuine bird) literally claws up a print out of the email into a finely shredded mess.

Something that the book itself certainly isn’t. Originally accompanying an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2009/10 the project feels far more at home in the intimate one-to-one book medium than enlarged and spread out across the gallery walls, although the content is identical. The book is a gloriously shiny pink fetish object, itself something to be taken care of. The production values are flawless; rich gloss images, heavy matte paper and dainty inserts serve as if to highlight the ineptitude of it’s bumbling raison d’etre, the ex within.

A better term may be the ex without, Prenez Soin de Vous is perhaps the most charming character assassination ever conceived of (perhaps you can guess what the rifle-shooter did to her print out of the email). It’s the kind of assassination you can enjoy at home, in private with the sense of frisson akin to opening up someone else’s diary.

Never one to keep her private life, or that of others, private – Calle has previously invited strangers into her bed, photocopied a diary found in the street, phoned the numbers within to assemble a portrait of the unknown owner and then published details of her investigations in a national newspaper. Threats of litigation ensued, but that’s another story.

Prenez Soin de Vous is the same sad story told a hundred different ways amongst which there are flashes of ingenuity; the clown who manages to make the use of brackets in the email hysterical, the cartoonist’s depiction of the moment the email is sent and received and the chess player’s interpretation on the board, the black side resigning, the king lying down.

The journalist’s assertion that ‘the letter interests nobody’ comes with a degree of irony. The letter has clearly interested many, far too many. The responses have interested me far too much; the children’s story, the tarot reading, the musical compositions and performances are artworks of themselves. Each is a welcome distraction from the true tragedy of Calle’s endeavour: the collective number of she-hours put in to a project whose catalyst was most likely run off by a man in a few minutes, that after decades of feminism it’s still all about the man.

The Cracks Begin to Show, Rachel Kneebone at White Cube, Hoxton Square

January 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Fortunately, Rachel Kneebone’s sculptures are wipe clean. An orgiastic sequence of porcelains replete with Kneebone’s trademark genital motifs make up White Cube’s latest offering; A writhing mass of dripping, interlacing, interlocking forms, convulsing with emulsion as limbs curl around limbs curl around limbs before melting into extended tendrils of silken phallus, distending, collapsing and mounting ever more, more, more…

Hmm they also look a little bit like birthday cakes.

But wait, maybe I’m missing the point, this show is about trauma, about dying about a grief so raw it tears one apart. It’s not about sex or celebration, no birthdays are to be feted here. Only the medium is celebrated, porcelain being one of the most difficult, slippery and downright awkward materials to work with, still somehow rendered to exquisitely impressive intricacy in the hands of the artist. And, this is where all cause for celebration ends. As the deep black walls indicate, the titles suggest (‘Eyes that look close at wounds themselves are wounded’, ‘As grave as the imagined as frivolous as the eternal’ and Mine heart is turned within me a collapsed figure’) and the show’s name Lamentations confirms this is designed as a sombre affair encompassing the subjects of death, loss and anguish– it appears there is no emotion that can’t be expressed in genitalia.

And, my what a lot of genitalia there are…I don’t think I’m the first visitor to be distracted from the themes. The figure of the flayed woman sat atop the central piece flings her head back in what is allegedly a silent scream, or is it? I don’t think I am the only visitor to recall Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Therese either. If you’ve seen this classic in Rome you may be aware of its tantalising duality and observed the divinity of St Therese’s ecstasy as somewhat suspect. She is indeed, one of Kneebone’s points of reference along with Rodin’s ‘Gates of Hell’ and Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’. Their visual impetus clear beneath a heavy layer of glazed kitsch.

Upstairs the show continues with, ‘A Lover’s Discharge’, a set of what would appear to be working drawings, relatively clumsy in execution alongside the sleek production of the wall mounted ‘Shields’ that are more like anaemic Christmas wreaths. Another nod to the unwelcome hints of festivity repeatedly creeping into my visit.

Hell, may as well give into it…into the lusciously cascading appendages, sliding, coaxing, beckoning inside, ever closer weaving and winding and sensuously caressing one upon the other, clutching, grasping towards their unknown ends again and again and again and…Oh. That was disappointing. Ignore my opening line. Like the discharged lover, like the surface of the porcelain itself, Lamentations leaves you cold.

Lamentations 2010

19 November – 22 January