Archive | September, 2016

Art in pens at the Tate

15 Sep

Initial fear of crowds combined with the summer holidays meant that I have only just made it to the new Tate extension. I wanted to see the Georgia O’Kieffe exhibition before it closed. It was excellent, though for me  it failed in its stated objective to dispel the cliches about her work, by which I presumed they meant the entirely understandable tendency to consider her paintings as tending towards the erotic. On coming out, I crossed the upper bridge, relieved the that the balustrade was high enough to counteract the vertigo inducing view of the Turbine Hall, took in an interesting room devoted to  Louise Bourgeois and worked my way down the wide staircase.

On the whole I was impressed with the space, though the decision to leave the wood on the stairs unsealed seemed odd; three months in and there are already thousands of stains. As I progressed down, I was pleased to see so many women artists has been included but became increasingly annoyed with whoever decided that visitors could not be trusted and that art-works should be put behind what looked like little electric fences. Fortunately, someone, in Health and Safety perhaps, has ensured you do not actually get a shock if you touch one.

Often these barriers went against the clear intentions of the artist. Take Helio Oiticica whose works Tropicalia and Penetrables were, according to the information on the wall, supposed to mimic the colourful dwellings of Rio de Janerios favelas, complete with sand and Macaws to give the sense of the tropical nature of the city. They were called penetrables because people were encouraged to enter them. Well not at the Tate. Stuck behind a little fence, the sand looked ridiculous; indeed the whole thing looked like a send-up of art with the sign stating that because of visitor numbers the Macaws had been returned to their owners.

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Helio Oiticia: Tropicana, but without the Macaws

It was also impossible to walk among these sculptures by Ana Lupus; you can see the little fence on the left; the lighting did them no favours either, which was a shame as they were interesting but, properly lit, could have been so much better. She had originally started a project in the 1970s to encourage local people in a rural area of Transalvania to create large wheat wreaths and arrange them in their own farmyards. But due to social and economic changes the processes stopped and the wreaths began to decay; so in 2000, she began encasing them in metal – she called them tins = which echoed the original shape and potentially allowed them to last forever.  So they were designed to be tough but, according to the curators, not tough enough to be viewed up close.

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Ana Lupus: Wheat Wreaths

Go down further into the main gallery to Between Object and Architecture and the pens continued with most of the works corralled in their own little rectangles.

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It even went against the Tate’s own expressed intentions. Again, the blurb on the wall explained that “since the 1960s” artist had thought in new ways about objects…..they were brought down from the pedestal  which had traditionally separated them from the viewer and placed on the floor…The viewer could now interact more directly with the object as they occupied the same space”

Mercifully the curators had allowed Roni Horn’s completely wonderful cubic glass sculpture, shown here only illuminated by sun-light to be protected only by a line on the floor and a notice that it was fragile.

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Roni Horn: Pink Tons

It was very touch-worthy but nobody was touching it.  Indeed, further up, the public was in the main walking round, rather than on, Marwan Rechmaoui’s  rubber map of Beirut, Beirut Caoutchouk  even though it is designed to be walked on.

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It is sad that once you become successful enough to have your works displayed at the Tate, they becomes so valuable that their impact is diminished by wires and ropes. Living artists should protest. Alternatively, now that visitor levels have fallen back from the initial peaks, the Tate curators could decide to be a little braver.

Welcome to touch

6 Sep

I have a friend (you know who you are) who occasionally accompanies me to art exhibitions who is a complete menace when it comes to touching stuff. I am always on tenterhooks, ready to hiss ‘don’t touch it’ and fearing that we will be told to leave in disgrace. Of course I understand the temptation; if a work is intriguing you want to feel the texture as well as look at it, so it was refreshing to be invited to touch Jill Rock’s small sculptures at her open studio in St Leonard’s on Sea.

Rock who has exhibited widely, in the US, South America, China and Australia as well as in the UK and many other European countries, works with found objects, pieces of bark, roots and  the odd kind of object that can get washed up on the beach, a dead bird, a child’s sandal. She manipulates them, adding colour or arranging them in different juxtapositions so that they are transformed. “I see them like puppets, ” she said; “they can be used in different ways.”

Originally a painter, her interest in the objects that people disregard dates back to 1997, when she spent time in the Australian outback and got to know some Aboriginal artists. On her return to London she found herself re-connecting with nature and on finding some birch bark decided to paint it. While the Australian experience was an influence, her works could not be confused with indigenous Australian artefacts; “after all” she told me, “I am not an Aborigine.” There are other influences there too – Buddhism for instance, maps and manuscripts as well as the very different climate of northern Europe.

Showing in the studio were a selection of small works seductively laid out on pink cloth. The blue and yellow bark paintings were originally created for an exhibition at the Royal College of Pathologists and were titled Evidence of the Death of Krishna at the age of 125 in a Hunting Incident. According to legend, Krishna was seated under a tree when a hunter saw his legs move and thinking it was deer let loose an arrow. Rock explained that the bark is painted Indian Yellow, a colour which was traditionally created from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves, and in these paintings signifies Krishna’s yellow trousers while the indigo parts reference his blue skin. All the pieces are anthropomorphised; they could be a finger, an elbow, a piece of forearm, a breast plate or an eye.

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Elsewhere on the table the works had different colours  like this piece below which is fascinatingly and intricately painted and represents a map. Rock explains that the earliest maps were created on birch bark and in this one the flatter parts are the paths where you walk, while ridges and indentations represent the contours of the land.

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On the wall, the map stopped being one of the mind and became real – fittingly a map of St Leonard’s where Rock has recently bought a small seaside retreat. Attached to the map were bramble roots, partially painted white giving the impression of chaotic human activity.

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I told Rock how much I liked being able to handle the pieces. “I let people touch, whenever I can,” she told me, “whenever I visit exhibitions; I want to touch and have to keep my hands firmly behind my back. But my practice is based on touching; I find pieces on the ground; I pick them up and clean them and then I paint them and all the time I am touching them. Touch communicates so much.” My friend would have approved.

Jill Rock’s studio is also open next weekend. 10th and 11th September from 11am to 6pm as part of Coastal Currents  and is at 56 Warrior Square, but the entrance is through the green garden door from Church Road. Her website is http://cargocollective.com/JillRock

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