Provoke: LE BAL, Paris

LE BAL is located north of Paris’ city centre in the 18th arrondissement, slightly away from the bustle and colossal national museums such as The Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Centre and Grande Palais, yet has had a significant impact on the photographic community in the three years it has been open. The building possesses an interesting history and feels an apt home for the image-based exhibitions it now hosts; originally ‘Chez Isis’ a 1920’s drinking den, before becoming the city’s largest betting shop, and then a ruin rescued in 2006 and transformed into LE BAL gallery. I visited a couple of weeks’ ago to view the ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’ exhibition examining Japanese photography between 1960 and 1975. This era witnessed an unprecedented rise in Western consumer society, huge transformation of cities, an increase in American military bases – and consequently an identity crisis across Japan manifesting in a protest movement. The focus of this show is on the subversive magazine ‘Provoke’ which only published three issues and was heavily influenced by the emergence of Japanese performance art and protest at this time. The exhibition also introduced me to lesser known but highly influential photographers including Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi and Daido Moriyama who not only documented the era but “thought of the camera as a weapon”. The black walls of the ground floor gallery space create an oppressive staging for images depicting protests against the construction of Narin airport, student occupation of universities and local girls mixing with US troops near military bases. The basement gallery in contrast is painted white punctuated with strong vinyl images. Each page of all three publications of Provoke is on display alongside contemporary examples of performance art and film, which help put the magazine into context. All share blurred compositions, abrupt framing and sequential imaging which by the close of the exhibition felt a standardised element of Japanese photography of this era.

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Images of protests against the construction of Narin airport
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Each page of the final issue of Provoke (issue 3) magazine
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One of the accompanying performance art pieces – ’30-Hours Street Play: Knock’ by Shuji Terayama held in various places in the Asagaya neighbourhood in 1975

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Lauren Baker: Hang Up Gallery

Wouldn’t it be great if someone combined a contemporary art gallery with the additional bonus of a licensed bar?! Well someone has, and it can be found in Stoke Newington courtesy of Hang-Up Gallery. The Gallery has been on this site specialising in Banksy sales since 2008, but last week opened a lower-ground space, reached via a secret door and corrugated iron staircase, aptly named ‘the bunker’. Whilst the ground floor gallery continues to be dominated by Banksy’s (though there are other noteworthy artists represented including David Shrigley, Ben Eine, Peter Blake and KAWS amongst others), the bunker is currently host to neon creations by Lauren Baker. Her solo show ‘Lightvisions’ comprises a dozen original hand blown neon artworks and limited edition prints featuring provocative slogans such as ‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ and ‘Just kiss me, we can talk later’. These neon statements are an expression of Baker’s thoughts in her own hand-writing and hold different meanings; some highlight her positivity (‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ is the artists’ daily mantra!), others are tongue in cheek (‘Be kind to animals of I’ll kill you’), whilst others explore her spirituality or deeper sentiments relating to love and lust (‘You blow my mind’). The nature of these works and the stimulating impact of the light emitted from them lends itself perfectly to its home in a dark basement – or indeed bunker. Baker chose neon as a medium for exactly that reason, admitting to getting “a kick out of the energy that oozes from the glowing tubes” – it also ties back into her spirituality as neon is also reminiscent of the invisible aura of living beings and through neon this becomes more tangible and visible. So as the winter weather kicks in, I’d suggest heading over for a drink, illuminating artworks and a night that might just be ‘fucking amazing’!

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Baker’s tongue in check statement about conservation
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Another of Baker’s neon creations
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The bunker space

Thanks to Lauren Baker for answering my questions, and to Laura at Sprout PR.

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Focal Point Gallery: Southend-on-Sea

Anticipating a busy September, I made the wise decision to extend my August bank holiday by taking an extra days’ annual leave yesterday. The proverbial cherry on the top was waking up to glorious sunshine, jumping on a train at Fenchurch Street, and forty-five minutes later arriving on the Essex coast at Leigh-on-Sea. With sun blazing, a still and glistening sea, cobbled streets through the old town with traditional cockles, whelks and eels being sold, I floated my way down the promenade to Southend and its Focal Point Gallery. The contemporary gallery currently has two main exhibitions on display; ‘#75’ and ‘CANWEYE{ }’ by Frances Scott. In an increasingly digital age ‘#75’ refreshingly champions the gallery’s own printed material produced between 2009 – 2016 showcasing posters and tea-towels along one wall alongside three display cabinets brimming with printed artefacts. The gallery also aims to continue producing one unique printed accompaniment to each exhibition, as they have with Dan Fox’s four page essay printed in nine different colours which visitors can take away with them. A corridor decorated with brightly coloured neon posters offering a tongue-in-cheek take on Arts Council demographics (including categories like ‘Bedroom DJ’s’ and ‘Time-Poor Dreamers’) leads you to the next gallery space. As you open the door to a darkened room with wooden scaffolding, a single picture draws you to the far end of the room… and this ink drawing by Derek Jarman entitled ‘Plague Street’ is the impetus for Frances Scott’s video installation. The film is played in a slightly uncomfortable setting and jumps between scenes filmed in Canvey Island (Essex) and Venice (Italy) – its constant shifting of location, use of both analogue and digital techniques as well as archival material make it deliberately difficult to settle as a visitor, whilst still managing to be an enjoyable and interesting experience. I’d certainly advise a visit before the Summer season finishes on 2nd October!

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A snapshot of ‘#75’ showcasing the gallery’s printed matter
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Some of the posters on display within the ‘#75’ exhibition
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A percentage breakdown of Southend’s audiences which have been used to decorate the walls in neon green, pink, yellow and orange posters!

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