Ravelling and Unravelling

It’s over a year since I last posted on this site. To be precise, 54 weeks. My husband died back in January after a very long illness and during the final months, and after his death, many friends suggested that I must be, or they hoped I was, or I should try,  throwing myself into art. This is in no way a complaint; these were positive and sensible suggestions. I thought so too. The only problem was, I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want to go to galleries; I didn’t want go up into the studio;  I didn’t want to pick up a paintbrush or make something; watching Netflix and eating chocolate biscuits seemed way more appealing. Even though I suggested to Patrick Jones who runs the amazing Project 78 gallery in St Leonard’s that I might do something there; when the time came to start, I didn’t really feel like that either. But I was committed, so something had to happen.

Project 78 is a space which allows experiments to take place; unlike many galleries, there is the opportunity to develop something rather than just display a finished product. I showed  my floating sculptures there back in 2016; this time I had a different starting point – Black Hole; New Beginning which I had made last summer.

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This piece was inspired by an article I read in New Scientist that it was possible that black holes sucked in matter, and maybe pumped them out into a different dimension. I find that thought appealing.  In case you wondered the blue gassy bits are being pumped out, the swirly bits on the right are being sucked in.

On  Monday I put it on the wall. It seemed small. It in no way filled the space, far less met the brief to respond to it.  More was clearly needed. I pulled out Fault in the Fabric of Time from under the eaves of the studio; previously it had been wrapped round the wall in the Murmurations Gallery. This time I set it up as a free standing version. This is also about time; the stripey bit are rock strata; the multi coloured bits represent the Anthropocene, the era in which we live. They all eventually get pulled through the funnel of time and end up, with a nod to string theory, as deconstructed matter.

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Still the space seemed to require more. More stuff on the floor, I decided. The strings are created from unravelling hessian. I feel this works in several ways; the act of unravelling seems appropriate as the whole piece is about time and change;  it produces these wonderfully sinuous fibres. Unravelling is in itself a restful, relaxing activity. So Wednesday saw me with a growing heap of hessian strands. Then it struck me that the half unravelled  piece I was working on resembled a prayer shawl.  Maybe it should go on the wall. It appeared human; I made it more so. From there six hessian figures, or,  possibly, shrouds, appeared; all partly unravelled as will happen to all of us one day.

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Somehow the space still demanded more. Black Hole; New Beginning still seemed too small and insufficiently complex. I added more material both being sucked in and being pumped out.

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I was happier now that this work was interacting with the space but it seemed curiously detached from Fault in the Fabric of Time. We pushed that piece into the far corner; they both had more room to breathe.

Clearly they needed joining up as well. It was only then that the thought occurred to me, which should have been obvious all along, that the unravelled matter should also be sucked towards the black hole. It could then start the process afresh in a different universe. Ravelings, unravellings in infinite space and infinite time. And so the hessian heap stop being random and gained a sense of direction.

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It all comes down later today but visitors who watched the process seemed to like it. More important to me is that I think I now might, just might,  start work on something else.

 

 

Beware the (dangerous) Orange at Pace

New York artist Joel Shapiro’s sculptures suspended in mid-air at Pace London appear to defy gravity creating an unsettling effect which, as it turns out, is not entirely unmerited. Geometric in strong but subtle colours, they form striking and exhilarating combinations in the gallery.

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A visitor contemplates Joel Shapiro’s OK Green at Pace London

Each time you look at one, it will tend to provide the foreground or background for another. But they are nonetheless separate. There is nothing human about these objects; their corners are sharp; their lines are hard. Their names provide little enlightenment about their meaning. Really Blue (after all), shown below I suspected was a reference to the process. Perhaps earlier it had been slightly blue.  I liked it really blue. Yellow May seemed more bile green but I don’t think this had political allusions.They were in place before the election!

OK Green was a pleasant but indeterminate colour, but wasn’t it pale blue?  No, perhaps not, and again such a debate must have resulted in the name it was given.

Joel Shapiro: Really Blue (after all) and Orange

One of the pieces had a rather plain name – Orange. There was no debate about it. And Orange it certainly was. But perhaps that should change. By and large the wires that suspended the hanging pieces were unobtrusive yet visible. The eye took note that they were there and ignored them. Orange was different it was low hanging and, as it is positioned in a bizarre and intriguing angle, naturally, you are tempted to walk round it.

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Joel Shapiro: Orange and OK Green

I did so and suddenly tripped but recovered; there was a wire about knee-height tethering it to the floor;  the wires that are plain to see in the air,  fail to show up against the parquet.  About ten minutes later my companion also attempted to walk round Orange, tripped and fell headlong on the floor. Orange wobbled alarmingly as though laughing. Perhaps there was a human element to them after all. It needed, we decided a less plain name, Dangerous Orange? or Trickster Orange. On the way out we noticed a small sign cautioning trip hazard. Tripster Orange would be perfect.

Joel Shapiro will be at Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S,  until 17 June

 

Tamara Henderson’s crowd at Rodeo

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Tamara Henderson: Seasons End: Painting Healer

When I first entered Rodeo’s second floor gallery to see works by Canadian artist Tamara Henderson,  my first impression was that too much had been crammed into too small a room. In most art galleries these days, paintings or sculptures have plenty of room to breathe. Indeed, often they can seem quite lonely surrounded by white wall. Not here. Every bit of wall and window is covered and the room is stuffed with 30 different creations.

Apart from the wall coverings, most of them are roughly human size and roughly human shaped. The bodies are a sort of kaftan, rectangular, made out of elaborately decorated and appliqued fabric. There is in each case a discernible head, albeit one made of something like feathers or metal coils. They all have block-like feet. A tremendous amount of work has gone into making them.  Some of  them are almost transparent; that, plus the sheer numbers, made photographing them difficult.

This first reaction that they needed a room at least twice the size, quickly gave way to pleasure as I realised that each of these creatures had a personality and, wandering through them, was like wandering through a crowd. The attendant at the gallery described them as costumes but they weren’t costumes – I decided; they were people. It turned out they had names.: some of the names illuminated. My mother in Ashes sadly seemed clear enough. The figure contained a representation of an urn.

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Tamara Henderson: My Mother in Ashes

in other cases, the names made you wonder about their history. Who was Brenda? What was the story behind Wait in Blue Pearls? I really wanted to know more.  I visited an earlier exhibition of Henderson’s work at Rodeo a couple of years back and enjoyed it but this time the work seemed far more complex and exciting. The crowding is part of what makes it.

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Season’s End: Painting Healer is showing at Rodeo, 125 Charing Cross Road
London WC2H 0EW,  till 29 July

Through the letterbox at Lubomirov Angus Hughes

I’ve always thought that restraints were an admirable aide to creativity. This view was reinforced by Antennae at Lubomirov Angus Hughes.The gallery held an open call for works which responded to the current climate of increasing instability and uncertainty. There was the promise that virtually everything submitted would be exhibited in London and from that exhibition, the curators would select works which they believed contextualised the mood of the time. Selected works would then be exhibited at Platform Projects in Athens. There was one big catch – works had to be delivered through their letter box – a mere 24.5 cm x 6 cm.

The challenge oddly appealed to me: I have become interested in soft sculptures and I wondered whether it might be possible to post a person through the letter box. The idea was to create a kind of self portrait reflecting how I felt first thing in the morning thinking about the folly of Brexit and the horror of Trump. I even acted it out, lying on the floor but the sculpture had its own ideas and the first head shape I made reminded me of Munch’s scream. I finally decided to go with it and make a female scream. Here she is. Brexit! Trump! Aaagh! or B!T!A! for short She is nearly 5ft tall,  and is actually quite a bit more than  24.5cm wide. However, with her elbows compressed into her chest and wrapped tightly in clingfilm she just squeezed in.

Before I arrived in Hackney, I had been pretty certain she would was slender enough. I had rigged up a model letter box out of polystyrene sheeting and had made sure she would go through. When I saw the real thing on the day of the deadline, when it was too late to change anything,  I wasn’t at all sure she would make it.

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Helpfully, she breathed in, no doubt screaming a little more because it must have been uncomfortable. Once she was gone I worried how she would decompress and whether the good people at Lubomirov Angus Hughes would plump her up. I also wondered who else would respond to the challenge and what the standard would be like.

At the Private View on Friday, I was relieved to see that B!T!A! had been unscathed by her journey and the general standard of the works was remarkably high.

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With over 100 works on show there was some incredibly imaginative entries, far too many to show. I particularly liked the clever machine-sewn drawings by Matt Siwerski.IMG_0602

I have always felt that the art world tended to neglect the sense of smell, but olfactory artist Lady Michaelle St Vincent had produced the Smell of Brexit – four little boxes representing the stages of grief each containing a different scent. I reflected I hadn’t got to ‘acceptance’ yet.IMG_0613

The Map of Nowhere seemed to sum things up pretty well.

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Poppy Whatmore was even more direct. You Made a Mess of Things, We Made a Mess of Things; They Made a Mess of Things.

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I also liked Maria Kaleta’s Underworld Faces.

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The curators will make their choice this week on the works that will go to Athens. I hope T!B!A! makes it. She would like the trip. I hope the works I have shown here make it too. But whatever the outcome, it was tremendous fun taking part.

Antennae is open in London at 26 Clapton Road E50PD on Sunday 14 May and moves to Athens at the Platform Project 20-25 May

Looking at one thing and thinking of something else at Carroll/Fletcher

Picasso is reputed to have said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” At first sight Eva and Franco Mattes, whose work is currently showing at Carroll/Fletcher in the heart of Soho, appear to have taken this advice literally. Stolen comprises some 40 or more different fragments of artworks from different museums in the US and Europe. They are each encapsulated in a little perspex box and, on the wall, nearby is a key so that you can work out what you are looking at.

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Eva and Franco Mattes: Stolen

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It is like a Who’s Who of contemporary art; some artists might be quite peeved to be left out. Among those included are Wahol, Andre, Segal, Beuys, Kandinsky. Very few women, you notice;  Robert Rauschenberg’s bed is included rather than that of Tracy Emin. Rauschenberg himself famously erased a drawing by de Kooning but that was with permission.One wonders what he would have thought. Looking at the tiny trophies, a few threads here, a label there, some strangely sizeable items like the metal plate from Cesar,  one is torn between admiration at their audacity and  middle class horror at the vandalism, even if on a small scale; “what if everyone were to do it?”

Finally, despite the video above the reception desk showing the pair appropriating a thread from a painting by Alberto Burri,  doubts surface. “What is this? A fragment of porcelain from Marcel Duchamp’s fountain? ” But the whereabouts of Duchamp’s fountain are unknown. Only replicas exist. I conclude that Eva and Franco are only guilty of breaking the ninth commandment, rather than the more serious eighth. I am almost disappointed.

The exhibition “looking at one thing and thinking of something else.”  has been in four parts and this is the last of the series , entitled Disrupt/Disorder/Display. It certainly succeeds in making you think about the nature of art. I wish I had seen the earlier ones.   The world has been turned upside down in another of the Mattes’ work. This time in a very different form; a disconsolate  cat has been caged by a canary.P1020148

Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s I can’t work life this was first produced in 2007 in response to a gallery’s invitation to contribute a work for an art fair. The words are spelt out by gaps in the hammered nails. The abandoned tools and bent nails lie on the floor beneath clearly expressing her frustration with the commercialism of the art world.

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Natascha Sadr Haghighian: I can’t work like this.

Downstairs, I particularly enjoyed the video by John Wood and Paul Harrison, Semi Automatic Painting Machine. Framed by articles apparently hanging out to dry, we watch items being spray painted, sometimes to the point where they can hardly be distinguished  from their surroundings.

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John Wood and Paul Harrison:Semi Automatic Panting Machine

It is  more interesting than it sounds. The sound of the paint being sprayed is particularly effective. Once again I found myself looking at one thing and thinking about something else – in this case, ” how did they do it?”

Looking at  one thing and thinking about something else is showing at Carroll/Fletcher,56-57 Eastcastle Street,London W1W8EQ until 29 April

Excellent Brickollaging in Westminster

“PLASTERRORISING – Create and maintain a state of extreme fear and distress in a soft mixture of sand and cement and sometimes with water; fill with terror to form a smooth hard surface when dried.

EGGLYING – An oval or round object laid by a female bird, reptile, fish or invertebrate saying something untrue about containing a developing embryo.

BRICKOLLAGING – Create a piece of art by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric on to a small rectangular block typically made of fired or sun dried clay, used in building.

A small booklet of some 30 enchanting definitions, of which those above are just a few, accompanies Stathis Dimitriadis‘ installation Astathia  in the Westminster Reference Library. Dimitriadis explains, “Astathia in Greek is the negation of constancy, which also happens to be my name’s origin; so this has been an opportunity to question my identity.”

This is quite a departure from Dimitriadis’ ceramic practice, which saw him a finalist  in the 2016 Broomhill National Sculpture Competition. While ceramics remain,  they  don’t take centre stage in the installation which comprises a precariously balanced collection of objects –  paper-covered bricks, brick-shaped shaped cages, some containing  small and intriguing objects, all of which have significance: Lego, rice, eggs, even herbs which I know grow high in the mountains above his home village in Greece.

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Stathis Dimitriadis: Astathia

I spot a small ceramic column, reminiscent of Escape from Reason,  one of the works he is showing at the Murmurations Gallery in Bexhill, where he is exhibiting along with Paul Tuppeny and me. “Look carefully,” he said, “you will find your own name.” Sure enough there was a small part of a poster for The Texture of Time.

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Stathis Dimitriadis: the ceramic column resembles his work Escape from Reason

The focus of the installation is in the central structure but it also spreads out around the room. There are brick shaped gaps among the ultramarine portraits; the missing pieces appear on the surrounding walls  As you circle the anarchic structure, it draws you in. The longer you look, the more you see.P1020105

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These  oddly juxtaposed objects are  more than just a reflection of Dimitriadis’ life,  some you can interpret; the rice – marriage,  the Thomas the Tank Engine – children;  the snail shells, the frustrations of gardening, or indeed frustrations generally.  Thus they are common to us all, reflecting the many facets and compartments that we all have in our lives. Overall, an excellent example of Brickollaging.

Astathia is showing at Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin’s Street, LondonWC2H 7HP, until 24 March

 

 

The Texture of Time at Murmurations Gallery

Back last year, when Joe Nguyen, owner of the Murmurations Gallery in Bexhill, asked me to curate a 3D exhibition, we discussed various angles; it seemed to both of us that exploring the nature of time could work well. It appealed to me because much of what I do is, in some way, related to human mortality and it appealed to Joe because only a stone’s throw away on the beach you can see dinosaur footprints, so there was a local connection.

When I asked two fellow Broomhill National Sculpture Prize finalists, Stathis Dimitriadis and Paul Tuppeny to join me, I was delighted that they too took inspiration from the enormity of  geological time. We all felt texture was important in our work. So that was the basis for  The Texture of Time which opened at Murmurations Gallery today.

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Paul Tuppeny: Here Beneath Our Feet

Closest to the dinosaur footprints is Paul Tuppeny’s wonderfully evocative work, made out of lead and mirror glass which shows human footprints, as if on wet sand or perhaps fossilised in the same way the dinosaurs made their mark all those millions of years ago. On the wall above it is a painting Doubtful Species, the man on the Beach,  which again shows the beach and the ghostly impression of a man, perhaps the creator of the footprints below. This work is itself about time, for as Tuppeny points out the knots in the walnut panel of wood took 120 years to develop.

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Paul Tuppeny: Doubtful Species; Man on the Beach

When thinking about which works would go together,  I was sure Stathis Dimitriadis’ tall column Escape from Reason would contrast with Paul’s footprints. They did; but I was also pleased how the orange in the rings and the orange in my work complemented each other.

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The Texture of Time; gallery view

Stathis works in ceramics and in his Ramble, he imagines the detritus of our everyday lives fused together as if by geological forces. This is work which really rewards study as you recognise the bits and pieces which are generally disregarded.

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Stathis Dimitriadis: Ramble

My favourite among Dimitriadis’ works, Respire, reminiscent of  a heart. brings our exploration of time back to the human, the fragility and the short span of our lives. This is a wonderfully clever piece; I particularly like the way that the tubes reach down below the level of the base.

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Stathis Diamitriadis: Respire

It was planning where everything might be placed that led directly to my work.  It was clear that at the entrance to the gallery there was a large expanse of wall space but not so much room on the floor. I am interested in works which sit on the boundary between sculpture and painting – and here was the perfect opportunity to make something site specific: paint on canvas that was also sculptural.

Fault in the Fabric of Time takes the idea of geological strata not as they are now but as they might be – millions of years in the future, long after the human race has been wiped out by asteroid impact, super volcano, or, if we as a species are really stupid, nuclear war. At that point geologists, perhaps from another planet or the evolved descendants of whatever manages to survive the catastrophe, would dig down and discover the strata that arise from the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, with the same kind of wonder that we feel when thinking of the dinosaurs that walked in Bexhill. For these future geologists would deduce from the tiny fragments of plastic deep in the rock, that there had once existed an advanced civilisation. Plastic there will certainly be;  it has recently been discovered that it can even be found in the oceans’ deepest trenches. Fittingly therefore the Anthropocene layer is made from compressed plastic bags.

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Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric of Time (detail)

 

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Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric Of Time

Of course geological time is long but not infinite. Even if the human race survives; even if we successfully colonise other planets, we know that the habitable earth and the solar system will come to an end, though thankfully it has around another eight billion years to go. But beyond that, by big crunch, or by heat death, or something else entirely, there could be the end of the universe itself. So my geological strata fall into the funnel of time, and as time unravels, we have disconnected matter, with a nod to string theory, end up as string on the floor.

The Texture of Time runs at Murmurations Gallery, 17 Parkhurst Road, Bexhill TN39 RJD until March 23. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 -4.30. Stathis Dimitriadis, Sue McDougall  and Paul Tuppeny  will additionally be talking about our work at the studio in the De La Warr Pavillion on March 18 from 12.30 to 3pm.