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Gallery

Emily Jacir: Whitechapel Gallery

Emily Jacir’s current ‘Europa’ exhibition was a little hit and miss for me… whilst I certainly enjoyed several pieces, I found that many failed to have an impact as standalone pieces of art, and it was only once I had read more about their political contexts that I could appreciate them. Spanning two floors of Whitechapel Gallery the exhibition includes multimedia installations, films, soundscapes, photography, archival material and texts – and covers the last two decades of Jacir’s work with a focus on Europe. All of the pieces have a heavy political leaning but some still manage to be amusing, such as ‘Change/Exchange’ which displays eye-level photographs of different Bureau de Changes across Paris alongside their receipts, detailing the journey of a $100 bill that Jacir changed into francs which she then changed back into dollars and so forth, until sixty exchanges later the paper money was gone and only coins which could not be exchanged remained. Others in contrast are very solemn; ‘Material for a film’ tells the moving story of Wael Zuaiter who was assassinated by Israeli Agents in his hotel room in Rome and features family photographs, personal anecdotes, literature and music to explain the Palestinian artists’ life and untimely death. Other pieces in the show include an installation akin to a luggage conveyor belt which only moves when it senses people nearby, feminist comments on her days living in Saudi Arabia where Vogue magazine was banned, a series of 26 photographs and accompanying diary extracts from a solo protest at a market square in Linz, and photographs of her Arabic translations of bridge stops in Venice in the lead-up to the Biennale festival (which were quickly removed). ‘Europa’ certainly provides food for deep thought, however I left the exhibition still feeling hungry for something more.

For more information visit their website

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Experience

The London Design Festival: Somerset House

Design districts (Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Chelsea, Brompton, Islington and Bankside), temporary installations, large-scale fairs, and hundreds of talks and events popped up across London last week to celebrate the city’s annual Design Festival. After lack lustre RIBA installations in flagship store windows along Regent Street and a frustrating visit to the V&A involving disorganisation, poor signage, a map with the wrong orientation, and long queues when you finally did locate a related room – Somerset House provided a welcome change and was extremely satisfying. It was easy to navigate, the central courtyard contained clear signage with arrows directing visitors to different areas, and actively encouraged public engagement and interaction. Although not strictly part of the festival, Marc Quinn’s ‘Frozen Waves, Broken Sublimes’ sculptures currently inhabiting the courtyard are certainly worth a mention, comprising five monumental stainless steel pieces including a 7.5 metre long wave and four conch shells. Moving into the Terrace Rooms six ‘#Powered by Tweets’ competition winners were on display, each challenged to create something beautiful or solve a problem using Twitter. Given my cynicism towards social media I was surprised by how thoughtful the entries were; one design equipped pigeons with pollution monitors enabling real-time tweets to report on air quality in various global cities, another harnessed Twitter to create visual mindscapes to help relax patients receiving chemotherapy, whilst another monitored language to create a real-time visualisation of the most popular words being used on Twitter. On the subject of communication technology, Punkt in the West Wing also touted their MP01 mobile which refreshingly contains no status updates, notifications or multiple alerts but instead “focusses on the things that matter, like communicating”! Finally, the sunken Embankment Galleries showcased ‘My Grandfather’s Tree’ where Max Lamb beautifully explained his story of felling an ash on his family farm which was cut into 130 sections, each transformed into a stool, table or chair, and all displayed homogenously.

For more information on the festival visit their website

Design-festival-images

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Experience Historic House

Absent: Shoreditch Town Hall

I am deeply suspicious of immersive theatrical experiences and have a palpable dislike of forced audience participation, so had my concerns about attending Dreamthinkspeak’s new production at Shoreditch Town Hall. Inspired by The Duchess of Argyll’s residence at a London hotel for over a decade until her eviction in the 1980’s, ‘Absent’ uses the Town Hall’s labyrinthine basement as the set for a journey “guests” can enjoy at their own pace. Upon arrival, I immediately bought into the deception of it being a real hotel, complete with reception and check-in area, functioning bar, and doormen leading you down to the basement where the hotel façade continues. With no idea what to expect when entering the first bedroom, black and white films of a glamorous dinner and a two-way mirror allowing you to see into the next bedroom where a drunk and disorientated older woman is packing her suitcase, ease you into the story. Moving down the corridor, you can look into each of the hotel bedrooms via keyholes and peepholes to view the same woman at different life stages; an innocent child, elegant young lady, and lonely older woman. Influences range from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, to C.S Lewis’ Narnia and Orwell’s 1984 – and the integration of film, installation, eerie soundtrack and detailed miniatures of the rooms you are standing in, make navigating your way through the building intriguing and utterly absorbing. The maze-like basement constantly alters in scale, and oscillates between the real (actual rooms) and the imaginary (film, installation, replica miniatures) making you feel as though you are stepping into scenes you have been watching or moments from the past. As you exit the final room a doorman is required to inform you that the experience is over, testament to its authenticity and to how convincing an illusion has been created.

For more information visit their website

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Experience

Alcoholic Architecture: London Bridge

Bompass & Parr’s new breathable cocktail installation ‘Alcoholic Architecture’ is cloaked in mystery and those with tickets are provided with very little information prior to their experience. It is located behind Borough Market next to Southwark Cathedral (the UK’s oldest gothic cathedral and site of an ancient monastery) and certainly plays on this monastic theme… guests are greeted by robed monks who stamp your hand with a cultish symbol before allowing you to enter the basement. This theme continues with archaic signage, faux stain-glass windows, bar staff dressed in robes, and the ‘Holy Orders’ drinks menu is similarly designed to look like a church service offering Heavenly Tonics, Canonical Cocktails, Sacred Shots, Trappist Brews and Celibate non-alcoholic options. Don’t be fooled by these names – this is a dangerous cocktail list comprising absinthe and Buckfast, the fortified wine Scottish parliament is currently trying to ban from entering the country. Attendees are given a fifty minute time slot and at 9pm I was given a disposable mac before entering the ‘Walk-in-Cloud’ installation. A neon sign warns those entering to “breathe responsibly” as the cloud is composed of spirits and mixer at a ratio of 1:3 and uses humidifiers to saturate the air, allowing alcohol to enter the bloodstream through your lungs and eyeballs! The macs are certainly necessary as it is very sticky inside the cloud and my companion and I likened the experience to an upmarket version of the sweaty nightclubs you went to aged 16 (in my case pre-smoking ban), complete with sticky floors, dense alcohol permeated air, and an eclectic playlist! My only criticism is that the cloud is fairly small and once you have walked through it a few times (I couldn’t stay in it continuously) there were a couple of ‘what should I do now?’ moments where a talk or having more information available would have been welcome.

For more information visit their website

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Gallery

Conrad Shawcross: Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery and contemporary art are not words you hear together very often…. I’d even go so far as to say they’re an oxymoron (although perhaps that’s a little harsh!). Currently however an energetic series of sculptures and an accompanying lightwork installation by artist Conrad Shawcross are on display, adding interest to the quaint south London gallery. “Counterpoint” the name given to the installation is displayed in the Gallery’s atmospheric mausoleum, and the industrial oak and steel frame contrast beautifully against the marble columns and stain glass of the Gallery founders’ burial chamber. In addition, three robust cast iron maquettes (scaled-down versions of the larger Shawcross sculptures recently erected in nearby Dulwich Park) punctuate the length of the enfilade, and deliberately get in the way of visitors usually clear passageway through the Gallery. These too conflict and jar with the heavy red walls, Old Masters paintings and Regency architecture of Sir John Soane’s purpose built space. It is an abstract visualisation of musical harmonics, and displaying the installation and sculptures together allows visitors to appreciate the journey the artist has been on. To summarise; the installation has four spinning arms and at the tip of each arm is an electric bulb, and at the base of each arm a bevel gear. Each gear is set to a different ratio (representing either the octave, fifth or fourth within the harmonic scale) and the patterns of light thrown by this create different ‘knots’ of light when captured using a slow exposure photograph – and it is these ‘knots’ of light which inspired the three sculptures. Love it, hate it or be confused by it – this installation is certainly stimulating conversation and getting people to question what’s in front of them, which is exactly what art should do in my opinion.

For more information visit their website