Museum Lapidarium: 8th International Festival of Visual Arts

I was a Novigrad newcomer until last month (and embarrassingly must confess to thinking it was a town in Russia rather than Croatia) however was utterly charmed by the Istrian town. Old Venetian city walls from the 13th century enclose a space littered with historic bell-towers, churches, a colourful harbour, and narrow streets decorated with bright umbrellas and other artworks! I was also fortunate enough to be visiting during the 8th International Festival of Visual Arts, breathing additional life and activity into this small but progressive town. This years’ theme was ‘Let there be… bicycle’ to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the invention of bikes and incorporated modern and contemporary art, a photography exhibition, performances, film screenings, workshops and other activities emanating from the Museum Lapidarium – the nucleus and organiser of the festival. Outside the museum you were greeted by a large-scale installation by Italian artist Marco Milia, created from interconnected blue plastic circles. Its site-specific nature, lack of clear boundaries and circular rhythms forced viewers to interact with the space differently; kids explored, locals and tourists were absorbed, and the sun and wind played with it throughout each day and evening. The museum building itself was animated with sculptures of cyclists hunched over their bikes created by Croatian artist Vasko Lipovac, Braco Dimitrijevic’s bicycle themed artwork ‘Tryptichos Post Historicus’ decorated a nearby window, and a selection of vintage photographs of cyclists was displayed in the Gallery around the corner. As night fell, festival activity stepped up a gear as films were projected in the main square, performance art took place in small parks and on street corners, and visitors were able to both watch or help with a workshop led by London’s Bamboo Bicycle Club to build a rideable bike out of bamboo from start to finish in just three days. With both a permanent archaeological collection and changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions, I left eager to return to Novigrad and see what future exhibitions hold.

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Gregory Crewdson: The Photographers’ Gallery

‘Cathedral of the Pines’ conjures thoughts of religious buildings carved from pine trees, but instead is name of a forest trail in the American rural town of Beckett, Massachusetts and the inspiration behind Gregory Crewdson’s latest body of work currently on display at The Photographers’ Gallery. It is the first time the Gallery has dedicated all three floors to one artist and contains all 31 large-scale images from this series, allowing visitors to view the entire body of work rather than just selected pieces. At first glance the exhibition as a whole can feel a little repetitive; with many images featuring bleak landscape scenes or simple domestic settings, however on closer inspection you begin to appreciate the detail and atmosphere created within each one. These details are often a little sinister; footsteps in the ground, an unexpected reflection in a mirror or window pane, or items that seem out of place in their environment. The people and settings in each frame also contradict each other, with figures standing still but naked in the snow, or on a riverbank, or as a couple in the back of a truck within a dense forest, making you question the narrative that has led up to each scene or ‘moment’ captured – and indeed what might come next. Credwson’s photography is famously likened to film as he creates cinematic-style sets and hires actors or models to pose within these sets, however this series recalls film in a more climatic capacity creating visual suspense in much the same way as directors Alfred Hitchcock or David Lynch. Unusually this series includes natives to Beckett as well as some of Crwedsons friends and family rather than actors or models, and he describes it as his most personal project to date. On display until 8th October it’s certainly worth escaping the crowds of Oxford Street and spending some time exploring the oddly calm dystopia of this exhibition!

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Klaus Weber: Herald Street Gallery

What more could anyone ask for than cacti with nipples, a mannequin dressed in a policeman’s uniform with his head under the floorboards, a pear rather than a bulb in a light socket and blown glass sculptural installations?! This is exactly what visitors to Herald Street Gallery are currently presented with in Klaus Weber’s eclectic ‘Kugelmensch’ exhibition which loosely explores erotic desire and society’s restrictions. The concrete floor of the galley is unusually replaced with rickety wooden planks (which despite a warning from staff, I still managed to trip over!) distorting the typical setting for artworks. You are greeted by a life-size mannequin dressed in a policeman’s uniform on all fours with his head hidden under the wooden planks and his helmet to one side, in an overtly sexual position despite representing law and order! Numerous cacti are dotted across the floor of the space, which are deliberately breast shaped and correspond with the two spherical glass sculptures which also share the space. Both are fragile and look as if they may break or topple over at any moment, and continue the sexual theme as the molten glass melts into each other and the concave versus convex components blend into one and other. One sculpture (‘Mechanics of Youth’) is distinctly androgynous but certainly phallic in shape whilst the other (‘Snow Woman’) is recognisably female with dried tangerine breasts. As you look up from this scene, the German artist presents you with a final simple yet surreal light fitting where the blub has been replaced with a pear. Accumulatively this creates a deliberately surreal scene, consciously evoking the anxiety and unease of the current political climate as interestingly 2016 saw Merriman-Webster Dictionary name ‘surreal’ their word of the year following a spike in the term following several acts of terrorism, shootings and the election of Trump. Provocative, humerous and thoughtful I’d suggest heading to Bethnal Green before the end of July when the show closes.

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Ashley Bickerton: Newport Street Gallery

Newport Street Gallery is fast becoming a favourite – light and airy, with high ceilings in all six of its gallery spaces spread across two floors, and consistently displays works by artists who produce bright, colourful, and fun or provocative pieces. Their current offering entitled ‘Ornamental Hysteria’ showcasing Barbados-born Ashley Bickerton’s works, follows the same brief and features pieces which intelligently combine painting, photography, collage and sculpture in an array of vivid colours. Bickerton is playful throughout; poking fun at the rampant materialism of 1980’s New York in his ‘Logo’ and ‘Non-Word’ pieces in the opening gallery, to portraits like ‘Smiling Woman’ where photographs are distorted in Photoshop before being reprinted on canvas and painted over, and whimsical takes on artistic traditions including an installation of life-rafts rather than traditional seascape paintings. Bickerton appears to extend the same tongue-in-cheek attitude towards himself, evident in a self-portrait where he is depicted as a grinning five-bodied serpent, and again in his regular use of the graphic motif ‘Susie’ which acts as his signature but is more akin to a trademark (again allowing him to comment on ideas around identity in a consumer driven society). The standout work for me is ‘Red Scooter’ where oil, acrylic and digital imagery of a family crammed onto a moped combine, in a bespoke frame harking back to his Caribbean roots featuring coconut, mother-of-pearl and antique coins. Bickerton evidently finds sticking to one medium far too limiting and in his own words it is “only in their combination that I find comfort”. This exhibition is certainly packed full of arresting colours, artworks which challenge the visitor, and at times are even quite frightening, however the overriding element of fun which pervades the entire show left me feeling exactly that – comforted!

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Wolfgang Tillmans 2017: Tate Modern

German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has become increasingly pertinent over the last few years, and following Brexit and the inauguration of Trump, the current exhibition dedicated to his work at Tate Modern feels relevant and timely. Rather than being a retrospective of Tillmans’ career, the majority of the works displayed across thirteen gallery spaces have been produced since 2003, which is when he turned his gaze onto political and social concerns. It comprises 450 images taken in 37 different countries spanning politics, freedom, portraiture, nightlife, and his own experimentation with processes involved in photography and printing. Each image is hung very simply either in plain white frames, pinned or taped to the walls, or held into place with crocodile clips – highlighting their vulnerability and how exposing (and often deeply personal) the photographs in this exhibition are. This is not to say the curation is simple, indeed whole galleries are transformed into installations. Several galleries feature images deliberately placed together unexpectedly to highlight how we experience different aspects of the world simultaneously, there is a recreation of his ‘Truth Study Centre’ project which began in 2005 where images, press cuttings, drawings and other objects are laid out together in contrary ways, as well as ‘Playback Room’ designed specifically for listening to recorded music at almost the same quality it was originally mastered. Images in the final gallery from the recent ‘The State We’re In’ project exploring current global tensions though photographs of the Atlantic ocean, country borders and landscape shots are stunning, but it was the lesser known images from his experimentation with chemicals, light, paper, ink, and the printing process that stole the show for me. These experiments resulted in wonderfully unpredictable effects and abstract images which I was previously unfamiliar with. On display until early June, I’d strongly suggest heading over to Southbank for an aptly-timed, educational visit!

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Rob Lye: Dye House 451

Situated on the ground floor of an old Permanite factory down in a side street in Hackney Wick you’ll find Dye House 451, a contemporary art gallery still in its inaugural year dedicated to showcasing works by emerging artists. You enter the current ‘Mute Ottakes’ exhibition by Rob Lye through the side door – a conscious decision by the artist so that the glass doors at the front of the gallery become a window to see the exhibition. Once inside, the floor is covered in black sand which unifies the different rooms within the gallery and also adds both an “audible trace to the spectators movements as they walk through the space” as well as a “visual trace, there is a history imprinted into the sand of previous visitors”. As the show’s title (specifically through the use of the word mute) suggests, this exhibition has been curated around a series of works that focus on sound, or indeed its absence. There is a silent outtake from BS Johnson’s TV programme ‘Fat Man on a Beach’ as a starting point accompanied by a looped piece of music made through degrading tape, three speakers which play a real time feed of the electromagnetic frequencies generated by the wireless router, empty beer bottles on the balcony filled with liquid to differing levels which play the theme tune to ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ if you were to blow over them, and less explicitly the main image ‘Hania swimming’ depicts a woman in a pool distracted by something audible but out of shot. All of these intermingle with the sound of the sand underfoot and are crucial to this exhibition, as the artist puts it “music, sound, silence, the act of listening, etc. it’s everything really”. On until 19th February, I’d strongly recommend a visit for a dose of east London culture.

With thanks to Fred Howell (Director of Dye House 451) for taking the time to meet me, and to Rob Lye (the artist) for kindly answering my questions.

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Gavin Turk: Newport Street Gallery

Back in London and the forecast promised a dry, crisp wintry day so I planned a walk along the Thames to Vauxhall followed by a visit to Gavin Turk’s exhibition at Newport Street Gallery. Alas the reality proved damp and drizzly, and by the time we reach the Gallery I was mildly sulking, but the current ‘Who, What, When, Where, How & Why’ retrospective instantly improved my mood! With an exhibition title asking so many questions, it seems only natural that the show itself should continue in a similar vein, inquiring deeper into issues around identity, persona and perception. It seems appropriate that Gavin Turk is not even the artists’ real name but a persona, creating a distinction between that and his personal identity; this idea is played with further with an artwork created from Yves Klein blue sponges in the shape of his signature and an oversized faux Hello! magazine cover in the opening gallery. Turk employs other artists’ identity with noteworthy homages to Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol throughout the exhibition. One gallery is filled with pieces which could easily be mistaken for Pollack’s but on closer inspection reveal hundreds of Turks’ signature repeated across the canvas, and another pop-art inspired gallery is awash with screen-prints several of which include Turk himself depicted in Warhol’s infamous gunslinger pose. Similarly a collection of sculptural figures featuring a punk, a soldier, a vagrant, and a revolutionary hero again question cultural identities and how society perceives others by the clothes they wear. The final gallery challenges visitors’ idea of value and how we view items typically thrown away or perceived as rubbish, through a pimped up skip and discarded items created into sculptures. All these works are set against the gallery’s plain white walls and angular high ceilings which makes for a strong visual impact – and better yet, it’s free!

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Animality: Marian Goodman Gallery

The term ‘urban jungle’ is never more true than when used to describe Oxford Street in the lead-up to Christmas; a mass migration of the UK population to one shopping destination, prowling the streets in pursuit of the ultimate gift, and shoving any opponents out of the way to seize their prey. In the relative calm of nearby Golden Square is Marian Goodman Gallery, currently host to an exhibition entitled ‘Animality’ exploring the complex relationship between humans and animals. Split across both floors of the gallery, it comprises seventy works ranging from early cave paintings through to emerging artists’ creations including pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Cartsen Holler and Peter Wachtler alongside philosophy and writing by Charles Darwin, Michael Foucault and George Orwell to name just a few. Upon entering the gallery you are greeted by cabinets of illustrated animals, a giant white stuffed squirrel by Mark Dion, an enormous black and white printed image of an elephant, a purple octopus sculpture by Carsten Holler, and numerous photographic images of birds and other creatures littered across the ground floor. A calf dressed in bright prints synonymous with Yinka Shonibare is suspended on a tightrope above the staircase, an albino camel sculpture by John Baldessari, and humanised wooden sculptures of a foxy Fox Lady and raincoated Raven Man by Stephan Balkenhol all continue to question what distinguishes humans from animals. These pieces are interspersed with film, including Fischli and Weiss’s humerous projection of a cat endlessly drinking milk from a bowl, Pierre Bismuth’s version of Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ where each of the characters speaks in one of the many languages it was translated into it, and a dark cartoon version of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ sponsored by the CIA who altered the ending. With only days to go before it closes on 17th December, I’d suggest a visit to escape the human crowds and reacquaint yourself with our animal counterparts.

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Huge elephant print on the ground floor
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Cartsen Holler’s Octopus sculpture
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John Baldessari’s Albino camel sculpture

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Natalia LL Probabilities: Roman Road

Tongue-in-cheek, intelligent and provocative, the ‘Natalia LL Probabilities’ exhibition at Roman Road Gallery poses questions that are as relevant today as they were when the artworks were originally created in the 1970’s. The two main walls of the gallery are dominated by two grids, each host to twenty black and white portrait photographs from the artists Consumer Art series – one is titled ‘Blonde Girl with Banana’ and the other ‘Blonde Girl with Sausage’. In-case your imagination has failed to conjure up an idea of what these images depict, allow me… all forty photographs feature the same blonde female, innocently framed with her hair in bunches, suggestively fondling, licking and biting either a banana or sausage (as their titles suggest). Far from cheap pornography, Natalia LL is making a feminist comment using phallic shaped objects to show men as a mere product consumed by the girl. This resonates further when put into context, as Natalia LL was a female Polish artist working in a male dominated Communist regime whose works were then used as a political tool to fight for equal rights and challenge masculine domination. These photographs are accompanied by two retro television sets playing different films, both depicting young, attractive females eating sexualised objects or writhing in their remains once they have been consumed! Finally a text based vinyl piece spanning the entire height of the gallery, plays with the artists own name ‘NATALIA!. Originally the letters were rearranged into over 5,000 new possibilities; a more succinct version is currently on display but still manages to achieve its’ goal of revealing that a persons’ name is just a fragment of their identity and the multiple variations of it highlight the subjectivity of women and how they are portrayed and indeed interpreted. Feminism is certainly having a moment in London galleries, and I’d advise a visit before it closes on 14th January.

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Consumer Art (Blonde Girl with Banana)
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Consumer Art (Blonde Girl with Sausage)

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Turner Prize 2016: Tate Britain

Having seen copious pictures of Anthea Hamilton’s “butt” sculpture and other increasingly iconic images from this year’s Turner Prize across various arts press, social media and mainstream news, this week I cycled down Embankment to Tate Britain were the annual prize is exhibited. This years’ four finalists reflect the diversity, humour and talent within the British contemporary art world. Opening with Helen Marten’s installations where everyday objects are gathered together in a collage-like fashion, putting familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts and creating a manufactured archaeological site where visitors are encouraged to try and make sense of what is in front of them. Around the next corner you are greeted by Anthea Hamilton’s large-scale bum crack, formally titled ‘Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce)’ and I only wish it came to fruition as an entrance for a New York apartment block, alongside her ‘Brick Suit’ set against a backdrop of faux brick wallpaper. The next gallery space hosts Josephine Pryde’s photographic series coupled with a model of a Class 66 diesel locomotive and train-track complete with tags by various graffiti artists from the cities her exhibition has been display at in the past. Her ‘Hands Fur Mich’ photographs are akin to advertising images, focussing on females’ hands holding mobile phones, tablets, ipads and other technology that society is becoming increasingly reliant on. The final gallery is dedicated to Michael Dean’s sculptural works and his compelling ‘United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children’ installation comprising £20,436 in pennies across the gallery floor (the amount the UK government state as the minimum a family need to survive for a year). During installation Dean removed one penny enabling visitors to tangibly visualise what is below the poverty line, creating a powerful close to this years’ exhibition. I left feeling torn between two artists and eager to hear who is announced as 2016’s winner on 5th December.

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Helen Marten
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Anthea Hamilton
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Josephine Pryde
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Michael Dean

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