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The Texture of Time at Murmurations Gallery

7 Mar

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonico Lemos Auad and the redemptive power of effort

11 Feb

One of the joys of visiting art galleries is the way that they can stimulate you to think about the world in different ways. Sometimes an exhibition can lead to completely unexpected avenues of thought. So it was with the exhibition by the Brazilian artist Tonico Lemos Auad which has just opened at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill. Since my visit, I have been pondering on the nature of tin cans, synchronicity and whether effort alone is sufficient to make an artwork interesting.

I will explain: the impact of work Auad’s work creeps upon you. It is not flamboyant or particularly visually compelling but it does enter your mind. The visitor is confronted at the beginning by a set of hanging sculptures that look like vertically assembled curtain poles. Look closer and you see that they are elaborately covered in linen. Lumps of sea chalk which seem untouched from a stone mason’s yard turn out to have delicate designs nestling on their surface, so subtle that they are easily missed.

At the far end of the room were the tin cans – lots of them. On first sight it looked as though it might have been assembled by an art student with good connections to their local recycling centre. ‘So we have tin cans – arranged,’ you think.

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“They are like a landscape,” says the invigilator.

“Hmm,” you say, non-committally, not adding, ‘or like a lot of tin cans.’ ”Oh, there is a design painted on each of them.”

“No, not painted on,” says the helpful invigilator, “left behind.”DSC02605

So it turned out. Someone, I would guess some hapless assistant rather than the artist himself, had painstakingly scraped away all the original design leaving a grey surface, polished by liberal use of WD40 and decorated by the small remaining emblem – a flame, a tomato, a polar bear, a face. I was  both surprised and horrified- what effort, and to what end? Yet there seemed to be a point; if they had just been stencilled or transferred, the visual effect would have been virtually identical but the installation would have been pointless and somewhat naff. It was the hidden effort which made it rather magnificent.

I might have gone home and experimented with a tin can of my own just to gauge how time-consuming it would have been until I reflected that there were none suitable; these days most tin cans have paper labels rather than a printed design on the metal, hence the large number of drink canisters and sardine tins Auad had used. Not only are these particular cans a product of hours of work, the creation might not even be possible for many more years as printed cans give way to paper labels, plastic and carton.

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This was not the only example of Auad’s belief in the redemptive power of effort. On the walls were a number of black abstract pictures, inscribed with small triangular marks. They were pleasing enough but not striking. Look at them closely and you realise that these are not painted; instead threads have been painstakingly picked away from the linen, so the designs are effectively carved out.  How long would this have taken?  Far longer than you would have expected at first sight. How often did they go wrong, requiring the whole exercise to be started anew?

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The one place where effort was less obvious was in the garden; this work was supposed to be about our relationship with nature and comprised eight little plots, seven of which held medicinal plants and one of which was awaiting members of the public to plant something, in which case they were welcome to take a plant in exchange. This may become more interesting in time. At the moment rather than getting me to reflect on the environment I was more struck by the fact that this was the third artist created indoor garden that I had seen this winter; (the other two were Empty Lot in the Tate Tubine Hall and Raze Bloom at Hales Galley.) I cannot recollect having seen one before. You could put it down to synchronicity and the collective unconscious; I think it is just another manifestation of Sod’s law; however original you consider your idea to be, at least two other people will independently do something similar at about the same time.

Auad’s work is showing at the De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill, East Sussex, TN401DP  until 10 April

 

Almost failing to be a work of art

11 Aug

“Ok” I said “I will come – provided it isn’t raining.” Even as I said it, I thought it was rather a mean-spirited reaction. I had already had to recognise that I am something of a fair weather sailor, not relishing going out in force 7 winds or when it is cold or rainy, or come to that when the waves are quite big – or fog; I don’t like fog either. It turns out I am also fair weather artist.  The invitation was from Sharon Haward, one of the tutors at Hastings College, to wear black,  come along at 10.30 on Saturday and stand motionless for an hour in a field in the Romney Marshes and in so doing become a work of art.

I was not entirely convinced I would enjoy the standing; I had enough of that in the days when I used to commute and sometimes couldn’t get a seat till High Brooms.  That was only  40 minute. But I had seen photographs of previous events that Sharon had organised and they looked interesting, particularly the Critical Mess which was a response to the Gormley Exhibition in Bexhill in 2010.

Photograph by Roz Cram

Add to all that was the fact I had never been a work of art before,  then Jules, who also is also on the Fine Art Contemporary Practice course at Hastings said she was up for it, and so it was that with the sun shining, so no excuses on that score, we set off at 9.30 on a journey that according to Google Directions should only take half an hour which gave us half an hour to get lost. Should be plenty we thought.

Now artists are generally  not known for there organisational skills or indeed their punctuality. It would have been better perhaps if either of us had checked the map a little more carefully – though Jules had at least thought to print off a map. Looked simple we both thought – along a road, look for the sign to the cafe and then turn left – or was it right? We were to meet  in a field with a church. No problems. Except that we started talking and the countryside was wonderful and there were lots of sheep and we suddenly realised we were in the wrong place.

Never mind, an unnecessary detour to Appledore was pleasant and we saw the Royal Military Canal, so we retraced our route and were back at Rye again. ‘We would only be about ten minutes late’, we thought ‘should be fine – seminars at college always started about ten minutes late’. So we drove up and down the A259 looking for a sign to a cafe. There was one but no obvious turning to either the right or to the left I then remembered the  Tomtom.

” I can’t believe you have a Tomtom” Jules said sounding only slightly exasperated.  I tried to explain that that was because Tom and I didn’t generally get on that well. Not only did we usually disagree about the route but then he would retaliate by saying in a plonking voice, “you have reached your destination,” when quite clearly I hadn’t. Nonetheless we turned him on; predictably he counseled a uturn and took us back to the café we had seen earlier. Still no sign of a turning to right or to left. We asked in very nice farm shop for directions and amazingly somebody knew and explained that the cafe sign near the shop had only been up a week and we should go back three miles down the road. So we turned the protesting Tom off and found, 100 yards from where we had given up, another cafe sign, this time with a turning to the left. After only one more wrong turning and 40 minutes late we found them. There across the fields was the church and standing motionless in a row without us were nine figures in black.

They looked stunning – part  of the landscape and almost as if they had been there centuries. “We can’t sneak up and stand at the end,” Jules said and so we watched them. Then finally they relaxed; it was time for a break and we were able to join the row. Two other people turned up so we weren’t even the last. It underlined the problem that Sharon has when working with people. If you are a painter or a sculptor, the paint or the stone or the clay may not always turn out as you would like but at least it doesn’t moan that the weather is too bad to take part or turn up 45 minutes late.

But late or not, we had got there in the end and  standing in the row felt extraordinary.  It was hard not to sway with the wind. It was nothing like standing on the 17.59 from Charing Cross. It was warm; it was engrossing; I noticed things I would not normally think about; my arms at my side, the feeling of the blood in my finger tips, the sound of the wind, thistle down, a small bird swooping, buttercups, the rushes. Keeping my head in one place, my peripheral vision became more important. I was aware of Jules standing next to me, also slightly swaying, of another bird, of vapour trails in the sky.

Sharon  is a co-founder of Runway which she describes as artists without studios who work together in site-specific ways in order to bring people together to contemplate the environment and create a sense of communal activity and to question the relationships between people, places, architecture and history. Afterwards I asked her what she felt the point of today had been. “Different projects have different points,” she said. “This was called ‘No time to stop and stare’  and was about taking the time to notice things.” I reflected that it had certainly worked for me; my mother would approve; the poem by W.H. Davies had been a favourite of hers.

Photographs of the event will be shown at the School Creative Centre during their open studios in October 2012.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H.Davies

“Hang on a minute lads; I’ve got a great idea…” well greatish

8 Jul

So the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill has a coach on top of it. It is teetering on the edge of the roof, intermittently it cranks forward as if it’s about to tip over and fall off, except you know it won’t because you can see that there is a whacking great girder stopping it doing so and you don’t doubt the Health and Safety brigade has crawled all over it.  I’m not knocking that;  if it were to fall, it would crash into the car park three stories below. I might be there.

The work by British artist Richard Wilson is called” Hang on a minute lads I’ve got a great idea..” The words are the final line spoken by Michael Caine in the 1969 film the Italian Job; as he and his band of bullion robber mates are trapped in a coach hanging on the edge of a cliff face.

Wilson has explained that he came to the idea because when he was looking out from the Pavillion; he realised it was all about how the sea met the sky and so about the edge; that got him thinking how the coach in the film epitomized  the edge and that was how the idea was born.

However teetering things have been somewhat fashionable recently. Over on the South Bank on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall there is a houseboat, Le Roi des Belges, which has its bows hanging in space.

Le Roi des Belges on the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Designed by architect David Kohn and artist Fiona Banner,  it was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which is set on the Thames and in the Congo. It doesn’t move about but  it has a bit of edge, you might say, on the De La Warr coach as people are able to sleep on it – well some people  – a few lucky artists were invited to stay in what must be the best bedsit in London plus a handful of members of the public who were acute enough to find out about it before it was sold out back in January.

So if you are not already one of them it’s too late; it’s due to be moved somewhere else as the end of the year. Still, if staying in a teetering thing floats your boat there is still a chance to do so. Living Architecture, the company which organised the Roi des Belges, still has vacancies in Balancing Barn in Suffolk which is also gravity defying.

Balancing Barn – still vacancies in September

But if the finely balanced is so 2012, unusual things on roofs have a longer history. Anthony Gormley had 31 sculptures on London buildings in 2007. The De La Warr itself also had its Gormleys, though unlike the London ones they were lying down, this time on the roof terrace.

Critical Mass at the De La Warr Pavillion

The best roof sculpture of all to my mind is still the Headington Shark. Commissioned by Bill Heine, it is more than 25 years since it appeared overnight in a suburban street in Oxford,  but it still knocks spots off the rest:  it doesn’t need to move; the movement is implied in the angle which looks unsustainable.

The Headington Shark still sets the standard

Apparently back in 1986,  Oxford council wanted to close it down on health and safety grounds but  when engineers inspected the roof, they found girders that had been specially installed to support it and pronounced it safe. That is the difference between the Headington shark and the De La Warr coach;  the shark looks as if you see it at the point it has crash landed on the roof and you cannot see the structure which keeps it in place.

All the same in these wet summer days, things on roofs help cheer the place up; I’m all for it.  The coach managed to get a trickle of Bexhill residents to come and see it in the rain. So I think other artists should be encouraged to decorate roofs; the Shard I feel needs a giant squid, curling its tentacles around those four spikes; how about a submarine on the walkway on top of Tower Bridge? Most of all I want to see a Paul McCarthey on top of the Barclays Bank building in Canary Wharf. You know the one I mean, Complex Shit. It would be a perfect conceptual fit. It could even jut over the edge.

The Paul McCarthy  sculpture Complex Shit would be perfect for Barclays, Many thanks to my daughter for help with the Photoshop.

 

 

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