MARK WALLINGER MARK

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Last night I attended Fruitmarket Gallery’s preview of MARK WALLINGER MARK. It is an unconventional exhibition in the sense that it is split between Fruitmarket here in Edinburgh and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee. I am not particularly familiar with Wallinger’s work, until last night I was only aware of the basic facts. He is an artist who has been creating work since the 1980s and in 2007 he won The Turner Prize with his State Britain installation, a recreation of peace campaigner Brian Holmes’ Parliament Square Protest. This was Mark Wallinger’s second Turner Prize nomination, the first of which occurred in 1995 in response to his A Real Work of Art. History, personal and national identity are some of the themes that run throughout his work. As I was not very familiar with his practice, I found the Artist Talk last night incredibly helpful in my understanding of his artistic oeuvre. I think attending artist talks is one of my favourite things to do, as although you can read and learn plenty about an artist online or from books and journals, nothing quite compares to hearing them discuss their work in person. It is an incredibly intimate moment I believe, for an artist to reveal and describe their process in front of a crowd and so I attend as many artist talks as I can. They are the best way to learn about interpreting both the artist and an artwork.

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Last night’s discussion between the artist and Fruitmarket Director, Fiona Bradley, was no exception. With a nice introductory discussion of his State Britain work, the talk then led into more recent pieces which included a performance work Wallinger completed in Berlin, as well as his beautiful id Paintings. These were by far the most stunning works in the exhibition for me, mainly because it felt as if I was observing the gestures of a private moment in the studio. It was also a refreshing moment for me to view them in all their tactility and impressively large scale, as seeing them on the website had created a digital interpretation for me. I therefore very much enjoyed studying the studio aesthetic of them in person. Wallinger revealed that they were created during a dark period as he was “not the happiest of people at the time” (notes made during Artist Talk). This to me is evident in the intensity and tactility of the paintings. What I love about them is they are merely traces of a gesture; light and delicate marks of a few studio moments. Wallinger made a total of sixty-six of these, which proves the release he must have felt in their creation. I believe this is evident in the gestures themselves, as they seem to conflict between smooth flowing marks and more frantic, hesitant ones.

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The show is very much orientated on this notion of mirroring and identity, particularly given the title of the show and Wallinger’s Self Portraits (2007-14) which take the form of the capital letter ‘I’, in various inky renditions on canvas. These are hung on the bottom floor on the same wall that the id Paintings occupy upstairs; a rather satisfying curatorial parallel which again ties into the idea of mirroring. This is furthered by the split format of the exhibition between two cities, the fact the id Paintings are mirror images on either side of the canvas and double the artist’s height, as well as several other features.

I sometimes find it difficult to absorb the work fully in a preview environment, as there is the distraction of conversation, constantly flowing movement and of course the bar! However what I love about previews is the conversation and questions that arise in response to the works and how this environment enables people to engage with one another and respond to interpretations. It is always interesting, following these discussions, to return to the exhibition at a later point and view the artwork in contemplation of the ideas that were generated at the preview.

To find out more about Mark Wallinger’s exhibition, click here to visit Fruitmarket Gallery’s website.

To read and learn more about State Britain, click here to visit Tate’s website.

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Self-Deceit #1

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Self-Deceit #1 (Roma), Francesca Woodman, (1977-78)

In December 2015, I visited Amsterdam for the first time. It was a truly memorable experience, not only because it was such a magical time of year to go, but because it was the first holiday in which I was able to dedicate entirely to viewing art. I went with my boyfriend and I am must say I am delighted to have a partner who is equally enthusiastic in spending countless hours in a gallery setting. We were fortunate enough for our visit to coincide with a major retrospective, On Being An Angel (18th Dec 2015- 9th March 2016) of American photographer Francesca Woodman’s work. This was exhibited at Foam, an institution dedicated solely to photography.

It was a show which I will remember for the rest of my life. Woodman’s work is incredibly raw and her photographic portfolio is composed predominantly of self-portraits. Walking around the exhibition was like peering into the soul of Woodman. Not only was her physical body exposed in multiple works, but so was her innermost self. Viewing the photographs was like catching a glimpse into her mind and world. Her aura was infectious and I was still thinking about the photographs long after I left the gallery; they truly made an lasting impression on me.

And so when the opportunity to write and research Woodman’s work arose within my current role as Digital Content Writer Intern for the National Galleries of Scotland, I was delighted. You can view the link below to read my piece and learn more about Francesca Woodman and her influences (in order to view this essay, you must first scroll right to the bottom of the page and click on the ‘plus’ sign at the right hand side, adjacent to the ‘more about this artwork’):

Self-Deceit #1 (Roma), (1977-1978)

See also my publications page for more.

 

Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’

dscn8042   Cover photograph: Dan McCullin

I am currently half way through ‘On Photography‘ by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), a collection of essays which were first published in the New York Review books between 1973 and 1977. Sontag received her BA from the College of The University of Chicago and did graduate work in the realms of philosophy and literature at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford. Throughout  her career she published four books, wrote and directed four full-length feature films, directed several plays and was a human rights activists for nearly two decades. A highly accomplished woman who has also won multiple awards including the 2003 Peace Prize of The German Trade. I know it’s slightly unconventional to review a book whilst you’re only half way through it, however Sontag’s writing is not only incredibly  inspiring and insightful, but also executed in such a fashion that I felt the urge to share my appreciation.

The book was first published in 1977 and this only heightens my admiration for the publication and the author. Sontag is writing about themes way ahead of her time; she essentially predicts the selfie-age, claiming humans since the Victorian era have been narcissistic with their photographic portraits. Of course, cameras have been available to the general public since the 19th century and therefore a history had been fully established by the time Sontag was writing. Throughout her essays, she discusses the power relations conjured through photography, the concepts of truth and fiction, the dissemination through magazines and bourgeois circuits as well as photography as a political and social tool. One of my favourite lines so far is

‘To photography is to appropriate the thing being photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power‘ (Sontag, p.4)

The reason I think this phrase appeals to me is because it is incredibly relevant to our Social Media dictated society today. There is a constant interplay between power and knowledge online, feelings of superiority created through social posting. Interestingly, Sontag also dissects the cultural attitudes to photography; discussing how incredibly hard-working societies such as the Americans and Japanese use the camera on holiday as a supplementary tool. Given the fact the pace of life is incredibly fast and constantly moving in these societies, Sontag claims that as tourists, they do not know how to slow down. The camera therefore becomes a substitution to satisfy the work ethic; it becomes a tourist device which allows them to click away with multiple shots, easing their work-free, holiday-going conscience.

As well as insightful remarks about society in relation to photography, Sontag of course goes into some of its histories, with particular focus on Diane Arbus with her documentation of freaks and outcasts, who claims ‘photography was the liscense to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do‘ (Sontag, p.41). Walk Evans and James Agee are also discussed in depth with their famous Let Us Know Praise Famous Men, as are other varying photographic documents of America. Given the author was not only writing in a post-World War, post-atomic, but also during the Cold War era, photography’s role in war plays a prominant role throughout the essays. As does photography’s artistic roots in Surrealism, the parallels of which are drawn and perfectly encapsulated in this quote – another favourite of mine

America, that surreal country, is full of found objects. Our junk has become art. Our junk has become history.‘ (Sontag, p.67)

It is a truly brilliant book (so far!), both for those familiar and unfamiliar with the history of photography.It can act as both a starting point and and a furthering of reader’s knowledge. I would also say it is worth reading for the simple pleasure of admiring Sontag’s revolutionary thinking, given the context in which she was writing.