I feel I’ve been a little slow on the uptake with summer exhibitions… but so pleased I got to see ‘Found’ at The Foundling Museum last week before it closed on 4th September. Curated by Cornelia Parker, the list of over sixty participating artists’ reads like a who’s who of the contemporary art world including Phyllida Barlow, Mark Wallinger, Richard Wilson, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum, Marin Creed and Gavin Turk amongst others. Inspired by the 18th century tokens mothers left with their babies as a means of identification at the original Foundling Hospital established by the philanthropist Thomas Coram in 1739, all of the artworks within this exhibition are created from found objects kept for their significance. Things get off to a strong start as a trumpeter dressed in typically brightly coloured fabrics by Yinka Shonibare greets visitors in the foyer. A temporary exhibition space in the basement contains over thirty pieces, whilst another fifty are dotted throughout the rest of the building intertwined with the permanent collection and period rooms – and this is where much of the success and indeed joy of the exhibition lies! Moving up the central spiral-stairwell a contemporary painting by Rose Wylie is hung alongside old masters, in the grand Court Room with Rocco ceilings and Hogarth paintings you’ll find Gavin Turks ‘Nomad’ installation of a dirty sleeping bag positioned to echo the shape of a human form sleeping within it, and a small iron sculpture by Anthony Gormley of his own child as a baby is displayed on the floor in a corridor! Despite strong competition from all the artists, I feel the prize for best ‘found’ item should go to Cornelia Parker herself who rescued Jimi Hendrix’s staircase from Handel/Hendrix House in London’s Brook Street following its restoration – and is aptly on display in the basement for this exhibition.
Thursday 23rd June 2016 – and perhaps moreover the morning of Friday 24th June – will remain etched in the minds of current generations as a date that has left the UK indisputably divided. Though official statistics show the UK voted to leave the EU by a slim margin of 51.9% versus 48.1%, this figure hides the 28% of the population who failed to vote, the overwhelming majority of young people aged 18 – 24 who voted to stay, subsequent protests and calls for a re-vote, and indeed the resignation of our Prime Minister David Cameron. These current political circumstances made it an apt time to visit Wolfgang Tillman’s solo show; a German photographer who epitomises what it is to be part of the EU by splitting his time between Berlin and London, and an ardent ‘Vote Remain’ campaigner. This is his eighth solo show at Maureen Paley in Bethnal Green and displays new work focussing on the visible and invisible borders that define and control societies. Encompassing the entire building, the exhibition is curated simply yet effectively with work either hanging in plain white frames or unglazed and pinned delicately to the walls. The ground floor is dominated by a vast image of the sea entitled ‘The State We’re In’ capturing an intersection of the Atlantic Ocean where international time lines and borders meet. This focus point is bookended by images taken at both the Northern and Southern observatories looking beyond their country’s boundaries. This theme continues upstairs with Tillman’s ‘I refuse to be your enemy 2’ installation, a recreation of a workshop he gave Iranian students which explored the uniformity of printed communication through office paper from various different countries. The entranceway, stairwell and exterior spaces of the gallery are filled with incarnations of Tillman’s pro EU poster campaign, and in these uncertain times it is refreshing to see an artist using their creativity to heighten political awareness and take a firm stance.
I must concede I underestimated Jeff Koons until yesterday, and Newport Street Gallery’s current ‘Now’ exhibition happily opened my eyes to just how talented an artist (in particular a sculptor) he is. The show opens with some of Koons’ earliest work from the late 1970’s; a combination of his inaugural inflatables as well as a reconstruction of ‘The New’ exhibition from New York’s New Museum in 1980 showcasing five brand new vacuum cleaners and floor polishers taken straight from their packaging and placed in acrylic boxes affixed to florescent light tubes. The next gallery suddenly steps up a gear and the double height ceiling showcases the artists’ ‘Balloon Monkey (Blue)’ to maximum effect. This monumental sculpture looks like an enormous helium balloon twisted into the shape of a monkey, however is actually created from highly polished stainless steel with stunning attention to detail in each twist and the knot of the balloon. This desire to play with viewers’ perception and challenge the choice of material used is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition, echoed in the upstairs galleries with inflatable beach toys made from aluminium which look convincingly like plastic, and a huge ball of playdoh formed from twenty-seven individual pieces of cast aluminium and held together by their own weight! Impressive sculptures in their own right, the unexpected material and reflective surfaces make for an engaging experience as you see yourself and other visitors mirrored and morphed in each piece as you walk around them trying to understand their mechanics. To combat this playfulness, there is a more adult – indeed explicit – element to Koons’ work, evident in his ‘Made in Heaven’ series of erotic images of himself and his then wife (Ilona Staller) alongside an enormous bowl of eggs and other not so subtle symbols associated with love and sexuality.
I popped into Roman Road Gallery only a few months ago to see Thomas Mailaender’s humorous exhibition set against mock brick walls, and returned earlier this week to see the space transformed with bright white walls and deceptively high ceilings showcasing Anthony Cairns work. ‘OSC – Osaka Station City’ is a solo show by the British photographer following his residency at the Benrido Collotype Atelier in Japan, during which he visited Osaka. It comprises a series of five photographic images of the city’s train station, inventively printed on recycled computer punch cards. Four of the images are hung together on one wall, and one larger print is hung alone on the wall opposite. Each of the images is broken into several parts and printed on either twenty-four or forty-eight different punch cards, which Cairns carefully positioned on grey boards and glued into place. The images are all taken at night time in black and white, but are printed on either off-white, pale blue or pale green tinted punch cards – and despite their mono nature each image has managed to sublimely capture the light versus shadow within its composition. Cairns chose punch cards as the repetitive sequence of numbers on them echoes the patterns and recurring shapes and buildings in urban metropolises. This is in turn is nicely paralleled in the Gallery’s surrounding area, as Roman Road features uniform brickwork, shop façades and tower blocks down its entire length and beyond, following its quick reconstruction after the devastation of World War II bombing. A final vitrine displaying twenty-one images each printed on an individual punch card helps give a sense of the project as a whole, and enables you to focus on specific details and other aspects of the train station.
The popularity of tattoos has visibly grown in the last decade, seen on the skin of Londoners, television programmes dedicated to inking or “fixing” regrettable past decisions, and its recognition as a worthy art form. ‘Tattoo London’ takes up a small but well curated space in the basement of The Museum of London and offers a concise overview of the history of tattoos in the capital, before focussing on the work of four eminent contemporary artists. The exhibition is photography led but complemented by vitrines displaying tattoo machines, inks, artist influences and designs, as well as a large plasma screen showing a short film entitled ‘A Day in the life of Four Tattoo Studios’ and a tattoo chair visitors can sit in and listen to extracts from interviews with the featured artists. Prior to the exhibition I knew little about the history of tattoos in London and was interested to learn that the first professional tattoo artist, Sutherland MacDonald, began work out of hours from his supervisory job at the Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street in 1889 for the fashionable and wealthy. Between the 1930’s and 1950’s George Burchett who stylised himself as ‘The King of Tattooists’ set up studios in Waterloo, and in addition to his high-class customers also inked servicemen and women with his most common designs comprising regimental badges, large scale Japanese works, and portraits of film icons. Following World War II a stigma around tattoos emerged and artists fought against this, but found they were primarily catering to London’s subcultures (punks, rockers, Teddy Boys, skinheads, and the gay community). The opposite wall of the exhibition concentrates on Lal Hardy, Alex Binnie, Mo Coppoletta and Claudia De Sabe – none of whom were born in London but from 1970’s onwards have set up studios and brought their global influences to the city creating impressive designs on the canvas of human bodies.
Here’s a few facts to get things started: by 2002 more information was stored in digital forms rather than analogue, by 2007 ninety-four percent of global information was digitally coded information, and we continue to produce 2.5 trillion bytes of data each day. I almost feel guilty posting this blog and adding yet more to this ever increasing phenomenon… but this is exactly the subject matter Somerset House’s current exhibition ‘Big Bang Data’ is exploring. Data is discussed in all forms; from the sheer volume of selfies, tweets, Instagram posts and GPS information produced each day, to how it can be harnessed for the common good, its surveillance, what it fails to tell us, and finally examples of abstract creations by artists and designers using this data. One installation entitled ‘data.tron’ by Ryoji Ikeda highlights the infinite scale of the worlds’ data through a hypnotic and constantly changing screen of mathematic formulae and data sets. Another innovative interpretation of data came from Ingo Gunther’s ongoing ‘World Processor’ project started in 1988, featuring a series of acrylic globes representing mapped data on political, economic, social, historical, environmental and technological world issues. Data-centrism is also addressed as there is a growing belief that data contains all the answers, failing to acknowledge that numbers can be manipulated and skewed. This is succinctly summarised in Jonathan Harris’ printed monologue ‘Data Will Help Us’ which questions everything from advertising to dating and whether society has now reached a point where we are ignoring context and common sense, to blindly trust data. The exhibition does a compelling job of making a complex (and indeed dry) subject matter not only accessible but interesting and even beautiful. My only criticism is that the curators played it a little safe and could have probed a little deeper and been more controversial.
Lumiere Festival brightened up the dark wintry nights in London over a four day outdoor event from 14th – 17th January. The project was launched in Durham in 2009 and this was the first time it took place in the capital; across various locations from Oxford Circus, to Piccadilly Circus, St. James, Trafalgar Square and Kings Cross. The crowds outside Oxford Circus tube during the rush hour commute were visibly stunned by Janet Echelman’s huge net sculpture suspended between buildings above the station. Echelman’s work is inspired by fishing nets seen on a trip to India, and this piece was more specifically based on the 2011 Tsunami and data from NASA which created a 3D image, informing the shape of this beautiful floating sculpture. A few steps down Regents Street saw mesmerising LED fish creations from the Fetes des Lumieres Lyon which floated, danced and swooped through the sky whilst constantly changing colour. Further towards Piccadilly the unexpected sound of a wild animals’ trumpet amidst jungle noises could be heard, as an animated elephant emerged between the archways of Regent Street shops stomping through a cloud of dust! Through Piccadilly and into Leicester Square, French collective TILT installed various plant structures (flowers, tress, Japanese lantern inspired plants amongst myriad other creations) made from recycled materials, illuminating the square with a magical quality. A hundred metres further, Trafalgar Square showcased the original Centrepoint lights on the steps leading up to the National Gallery highlighting how each installation was designed to respond to the architecture it was placed within. Finally a pack of glass and neon dogs – not dissimilar to balloon dogs at children’s parties – graze near Trafalgar Square with their leads, bones and other paraphernalia associated with dog walking. Here’s hoping the festival returns to the city to enliven many a Londoners journey home!
The Barbican’s current exhibition dedicated to the creations of Charles and Ray Eames celebrates the couple’s contribution to twentieth century design beyond their well-known innovations in furniture. There are some beautiful individual pieces on display and I thoroughly enjoyed the insights offered into their personal and professional relationship, but I did find it lacking an overall theme and at times quite difficult to follow. The curators describe the Eameses as “enthusiastic and tireless experimenters” and a couple who “embraced the joy of trial and error” which certainly comes across in the constantly changing focus of the exhibition – from their furniture and product design, to architecture, exhibition-making, photography, and even forays into education. The show opens with plywood constructions ranging from a plane wing to a medical stretcher and leg splints, immediately highlighting not only the couple’s product design skills but also their fascination with experimentation. It goes on to display a wall of ‘Arts & Architecture’ magazine covers designed by Ray Eames throughout the 1940’s, showcasing his skill in graphic design. It moves on to explore the numerous competitions and commissions the duo entered, including ‘New Furniture’ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1946, ‘Arts & Architecture’ magazines’ commission of eight houses in California, a post-war Museum of Modern Art competition for low cost furniture, and developmental pieces from the IBM Pavilion at New York’s World Fair in 1964-’65. Personal highlights included a letter from Charles proposing marriage to Ray which is charmingly childlike including a sketch of Ray’s left hand alongside an engagement ring! I also appreciated viewing the Eameses chairs which went on to be mass produced by the Herman Miller Furniture Co. (an precursor to IKEA), as well as a replica of their 1950’s ‘Musical Tower’ – a playful gravity powered xylophone made from wood, metal, acrylic, lacquer, rubber and resin.
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.
Hidden behind an unassuming black door at The Wellcome Collection is Alice Anderson’s new ‘Memory Movement Memory Objects’ exhibition. It comprises one hundred sculptures of mundane, everyday objects covered (or as the artist describes “mummified”) in copper thread, transforming them into beautiful artworks. The introduction promises that visitors will “rediscover things you already thought you knew” and when confronted with a 1976 Ford Mustang semi covered in copper thread at the entrance of the exhibition, this certainly rings true! The curation is very simple and each of the five rooms is painted either dark black or bright white forcing the copper sculptures to pop out at you. There is very little signage or printed information which encourages you to really look at and engage with the objects, and try and guess what they are from a bicycle, to keys, a pipe, tennis racket, guitar, plasma television screen, basket-ball, telephone, stethoscope, ladder, ropes suspended from floor to ceiling and more. It is easy to dismiss the skill in these sculptures, and it is only when comparing Anderson’s pieces to the Ford Mustang which the public are invited to “mummify” that you appreciate the artists’ attention to detail and thought about how light will reflect off each sculpture. Covering the objects in copper tread also shifts your understanding of them from a design perspective, as all colour and detail is removed leaving just the outline and overall shape. There is more to this exhibition than shiny, pretty things however – and Anderson’s choice of the word “mummify” to describe her use of copper thread immediately brings archaeology to mind, and raises interesting questions about how we preserve the present, how we store memories today, and with social media on the increase sinisterly observes that “our memories might soon become disembodied and live exclusively online”.