Archive | February, 2017

What a difference a clay makes

18 Feb

The photograph on Art Rabbit looked promising: it was of an installation, Beautiful Minds by Anya Gallaccio, at the Thomas Dane Gallery in London’s St James. It showed contorted clay layers which had apparently been made by a form of 3D printing. They reminded me of the ridges and furrows of the brain. But I was just as happy with the explanation that they were of a scaled effigy of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The layers then looked like rock strata, one of my current obsessions.

anya-gallaccio-beautiful-minds-2015-17-installation-view-2015-1

When I visited, the reality was different in a small, but important, respect. Instead of white clay, the machine was disgorging from its nozzle terracotta red-brown clay. It was damp, viscous and slightly shiny and you did not need to have a mind with a particularly scatological bent to imagine that it was somehow in the process of evacuating  a series of fancy and intricate turds.

P1020015.JPG

Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds: work in progress

 

It did not diminish my enjoyment of the achievement. This was, by a large margin, the most interesting demonstration of 3D printing that I have seen. So often this amazingly clever technology produces nothing more extraordinary that a little plastic figurine of the kind that you might buy in Woolworths if Woolworths still existed. This, in contrast, was large, noisy and impressive. Noisy is not a metaphor; the machine makes an enormous racket; my ears were ringing for a good ten minutes after I left. If you go, and you should, it would be worth bringing ear plugs.

Gallaccio  was born in Scotland but it is unlikely her practice would have developed this way had she remained. She now lives in California’s growing technological hub, San Diego, and  built the machine with a group of her recent graduates from the University’s Visual Arts Department.   The technology means she does not need to be present while the work is being produced. While there was an assistant, sensibly wearing ear protectors, overseeing the process, he was not directing the placement of the clay; his intervention was limited to starting or stopping the machine. The auto construct was determined by the program on the laptop which, presumably, had to take account of the changing properties of clay as it dries, ensuring that each part of the structure was sturdy enough to take additional weight before new layers were added.

 

p1020016

Anya Gallaccio: Beautiful Minds; work in progress

The work was not just fascinating to watch, it also raises intriguing questions  – whether the artwork was the process or the product and also about originality. While in theory the build could be repeated any number of times with a material as anarchic as clay, no version would be likely to be the same. It could also mimic the erosion process,  the clay could be re-hydrated and  the redistributed allowing an endless cycle of creation and destruction.

The accompanying blurb explained that the work was intended to highlight the potential slippage between artistic intent, the limits of materials and the struggle of communication in contemporary artistic practice. This left me wondering about the colour and why it was not as advertised.

If you look carefully at the bottom layer in the picture you can see a smidgen of white coloured clay. Was the colour change intentional?  Could Gallaccio have decided that terracotta would be more earth-like. Once dry, the bodily resonances would probably be less striking. Or was their a shortage? Or did the suppliers send the wrong consignment? It’s not just the limitations of the materials which can lead to slippage.

Then I looked up Devil’s Tower and all became clear. The exhibition runs until 25 March by which time the mountain, which is currently around two feet high, will have grown to around six feet.  Look at this picture and you see at once that the final round of construction will indeed be in white clay. That smidgen is just the start; the part of the base that would be among the trees. I must go back and see it complete.

devils_tower_crop

Devil’s Tower Wyoming; the model for Gallaccio’s work

Beautiful Minds is running at the Thomas Dane Gallery, 11 Duke Street, St James’s London SW1Y6BN until 25 March. 

 

 

Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern

6 Feb

In 1964 Robert Rauschenberg, whose works are currently on show at Tate Modern, became the first American to win the Gran Primeo at the Venice Biennale with his pioneering screen prints. It was the culmination of a highly successful 18 months. The previous year he had been given a major retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York; it was followed by an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London which broke attendance records.  Whereas his contemporary, Warhol,  used his own popularity to feed the market, turning out thousands of screen prints, a strategy which even today sees him rank second after Picasso in auction revenue, Rauschenberg had a radically different attitude. The day after his Venice success, he phoned his assistant and asked him to destroy any silk-screens left in the studio so he would not have the temptation to repeat himself.

Only someone highly confident of his ability to come up with fresh ideas  would  make such a decision. Tate visitors  can see that this confidence was fully justified. Everywhere you look, you see how he tried things nobody had tried before and which led to avenues which are still being explored by artists today.  Perhaps even more important than this confidence was the desire to enjoy himself; repeating himself would have been work; what is abundantly clear is that Rauschenberg wanted his art to be fun.

He was one of the first artists to introduce objects into his works – the Combines. Some worked better than others.  I rather liked the fans in the painting shown below but was less keen on one which incorporated a small table light.p1000947

It was good to see the goat, correctly titled Monogram – lent  by the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm; it is fragile and rarely travels. Mounted on a horizontal canvas on the floor, it is,  fifty years later, still a striking piece – though somewhat pointless, though I suppose that is the point. But what fun he must have had with  it: –  finding it in a used furniture store, fixing it first to a vertical canvas, then to a horizontal one,   daubing its nose with paint, playing with the tyre, so that finally  in his words, they came to live happily ever after.

p1000959

Robert Rauschenberg: Monogram

But if tyre-wearing goats are not to your taste there is so much more to discover. One visit can hardly do the exhibition justice. I was intrigued by a small light-box, Shades, apparently a one-off as it was dedicated to his son Christopher. It contained six lithographs, only one of which was in a fixed position; the others could be re-ordered. Many artists would have created a practice around the concept; Rauschenberg was happy to make it and move on.

p1000958

Robert Rauschenberg: Shades

I loved the image of the tyre tread running along 20  of sheets of typing paper. Ruauschenberg had poured black house  paint in front of the back wheel of John Cage’s car and then got him to drive over the paper. There was the carboard scuplture which made me want to play around with cardboard myself.

p1000954 Most striking of his ‘art is fun’  works, must be  Mud Muse bubbling in a satisfying way with the sounds amplified so that it feels as if you are in the cauldron.

p1000949

Robert Rauschenberg: Mud Muse

All good art makes you see the world in a new light; I find myself pushing cardboard into new shapes, eyeing the table lamps and art now intrudes into breakfast; making porridge will never be quite the same.

Robert Rauschenberg is showing at Tate Modern until April 2.

 

%d bloggers like this: