Out of touch with the Neanderthals

English: First reconstruction of Neanderthal m...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week there was a report that the earliest paintings may have been made not by human hands but by Neanderthals. Scientists are now thinking that cave paintings in Altemira were made between 37,000 and 41,000 years ago. I know nothing lasts forever but I have a feeling that if something has been going on for 41,000 years give or take a few months, 2012 is unlikely to be the year that it finally goes out of fashion.

So I was disappointed not to see any paintings at all at the Sussex Coast College Art and Design Degree Show held at the PrintWorks in Hastings. Not one – there were graphics,  installation, film, sculpture, a book, photographs, including an embroidered photograph, but nobody  had got out a paint brush, or emulating the Neanderthals, a painty hand or stick and daubed it over something. I suspect the third year students felt real mucky, oozy paint wasn’t contemporary enough. I think they are mistaken. The Constructionists back in 1920 also believed that easel painting was non revolutionary and had outlived its time.

Painting is  a bit like denim – fashion magazines say about every three years it’s finished and nobody takes any notice and continue to wear it. The desire to paint things and, equally, to live side by side with paintings is hardwired into the human brain. The challenge for us as artists is to find new and interesting ways to do it.

That being said there were still some interesting works there. I particularly liked David Sullivan’s film. At first sight it appears to be completely incomprehensible though visually intriguing. I caught up with Sullivan; he explained that it was inspired by the 2011 summer riots and the way that rioters communicated through Blackberries. He started looking at the language they used. The result was Babel Babes; moving lips that interpret the emoticons used in text messaging. The film, Sullivan told me, is a conversation in pictures about someone being angry and heartbroken and friends wanting to cheer her by going out for a beer and dance.

Sullivan made the film and edited it using After Effects, Premier Pro and Photoshop. For those people who are Neanderthals when it comes to using this kind of language,  >:O >:O>:O means angry, angry angry. Wikapedia very helpfully provides a full list which will help you interpret.


Another artist who has changed images digitally is Colin Hemingway. His work Fun and Games centres around a hard backed book apparently by the author SK Bebete. Hemingway’s work was inspired by Nobel prize winning author Julian Barnes in his acceptance speech thanking the book designers and emphasizing the need for physical objects. The art is an exploration of what is real. It also examines the way that these days anybody can publish anything no matter whether it is of value or not. Hemingway took the 1966 Ladybird book and digitally altered each page, so that they are unrecognisable. The words of the book are rearranged to make a different text. People can have their own signed version by ordering a book on line and adding a label which already bears Bebete’s signature.

Lydia Moon’s work commemorates deaths in Afghanistan. She has constructed a number of white paper bricks; each brick represents a single life lost; each pile the number of casualties lost during a month. There are hundreds of them and they are stacked down the stairs. I didn’t count them but they must only represent British lives, 419 as of yesterday:  if they included Afghani lives and American lives they would need more stairwells.

The Art and Design Degree Show (Sussex Coast College in conjunction with Brighton University) is open from 10.00 to 16.00 until June 22 at the Print Works, 14 Claremont TN34 1HA.

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