Beautiful Berlin

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It’s been a long time since a city has inspired me as much as Berlin. Amsterdam was absolutely fantastic – there was so much to see. Our art-orientated sightseeing ranged from seeing traditional artwork at the Van Gogh Museum to more contemporary works at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). However with Berlin, it’s different. You’re not just entering buildings and spaces to look at the art; it’s everywhere. It’s in the buildings, not just physically, but inherently. It’s ingrained as part of the architecture, it’s on the street, down alleyways, on subway routes, it’s even encapsulated by people’s eclectic mix of clothing. The city seems to pulsate with this artistic aura, which threatens to overwhelm you it’s so inspiring. You feel as if you’re going to burst with this creative warmth brewing in your stomach as you take it all in!

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The history of the place seems to enhance this sense of creative energy, particularly given the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the fall of the wall, came the fall in both political systems and social barriers. Berlin realized a new kind of freedom that had never been felt before and consequently aspects such as the music scene flourished as people endlessly celebrated the reunification. Given their history it seems people in Berlin have something to say; it’s as if the years of oppression made them realise that they want to be heard. With transient chalk-based artworks on the pavement, alleyways bursting with colourful graffiti, the life and soul of the city can be found anywhere and everywhere. I think this is why it had such an impact on me. The creative culture of the city was not confined to sketchbooks and galleries, or exclusive artistic spaces. Instead it was living and breathing on the street, trickling into the galleries from outside.

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Walking through this cultural hub that is Berlin really focuses your mind. Because there is so much to absorb, you realise what it is you want to pinpoint and fixate on; what explorations you want to further. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, however in the past it was more of a subconscious fascination. It was only as we walked through Berlin and I was catching glimpses of it in places and on the facade of big buildings that I became aware of how interested in it I actually am. Now that I am more aware of this interest I reflect and realise that there have been very poignant moments that fueled my interest in street art. One of those moments was years ago when I was walking behind Edinburgh Waverly station and I came across this wall absolutely crammed with colour and bubble shaped writing, graffiti creatures curling out of the wall. There was someone spray painting and I remember thinking how free they must have felt in that moment. To have no paper or easel, no barrier between their spray can and a permanent site. They were leaving their mark in a space that didn’t belong to them and I thought it was beautiful. Joseph Beuys once said that anyone can be an artist if they realise their potential and find the necessary form in which to communicate their ideas. This sentiment has caused a lot of debate and I am in agreement with him to an extent. However I am more of the belief that art is everywhere. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, or aren’t necessarily looking, it is still present. It’s present in the black polka dots of a lady bug climbing over a green leaf,  it’s present in the synced rhythms of our breathing and living bodies, it’s present in the way we gesture as we speak. Art is everywhere and it is the ability to take the things we see; to capture them and their essence and translate them into an entirely new form, that I believe makes you a true artist.

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Creative Outlets

13687254_141506512950038_1833900222_n“I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves.They were trying to trap the fact, because after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them that they want to record. And they’ve tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught.” – Francis Bacon, Tate Liverpool ‘Invisible Rooms’ exhibition catalogue

I read this quote last night and it has stuck with me as I tried to grapple with Bacon’s analysis in relation to my own work. In my view he is absolutely right, artists are obsessed with life; whether it is the architecture we live in, our own bodies, nature and the natural environment, urbanism, industrialism, consumerism. You name it. We’ve made art about everything. Art in a sense could almost be compared to science. It is a route to discovery, a journey of experimentation and deduction. Much like scientists employing  mathematics in an attempt to predict the movements of particles, artists engage with their surroundings and various mediums in an attempt to express themselves and their ideas. Conceptual art is at the forefront of modern art today, as by utilizing artworks as tools we are able to realise an idea and convey it to a public audience. Yet there is also and will always be the most expressive form of art; art that does not require proposals and adherences to restricted budget costs, art that does not require a white cube gallery space to be displayed in, but art that simply is from the self. Raw, unaltered sketches, drawings, illustrations and doodles. The purest form of expression and that emotional/creative release.

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Doodling culture and the professional art world have more in common than most people initially think as they are both incredibly different, yet simultaneously the same. Yes, in galleries there are large scale installations and elaborate industrial sculptures Jeff Koons style, but it all began in the artist’s mind. It quite likely originated with a little paper doodle or a frantic sketch on a table napkin at the crucial moment of realising the sketchbook was left on the coffee table at home. I feel in a lot of cases there are too many barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, too many words that separate what is classified as good and not so good work. Of course, personal taste and style plays a vital part in these judgements as negotiating personal opinion is one of art’s main experiments; to make people question, to challenge them into realising what it is they do and don’t like is at the core of several artistic practices. In a lot of cases however it is the observers who validate what qualifies as good and bad artwork, who make the official distinction which everyone should follow.

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Like anything else in this world, people are happy to follow trends. Whether that is reading a book that everyone else is reading, engaging with an artist who everyone is talking about, visiting an exhibition that everyone else has seen. Despite the creation of artwork being one of the purest forms of human expression and the most individual and personal entity in human existence, art  is still not exempt from the trap of following what is considered mainstream. In a sense however, this actually makes it more interesting as you could ask the question who do we make art for? In this day and age, with the pace of social media and the digital information we are constantly fed, there is a heightened sense of expectation in artmaking and inevitably, artists react to this. So who do artists actually make art for? Is it purely for themselves as the most raw forms of self expression? Is it for an art based audience who will engage with it in the way that the artist themself has? Or is it for a public audience, whose art background and knowledge is probably sparse? Or does it fall within all of these categories? It’s interesting as in a lot of cases I would say it is a combination. You often make art for different purposes which include selling, giving as presents and so these distinctions in themselves also affect the purpose and thinking surrounding the making of the piece.

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I’m not criticising any of these modes of artmaking. I think art is personal and the purpose of the artwork extends within that personal realm. Each person is different, as is each artwork and artist. I know that my artwork varies a lot of the time depending on audience, how I’m feeling, whether it’s for myself or for display. Given that traditionally and throughout human history art has been hung on the wall in Salons and grand entrance halls for all people to see, it is ironic that my art is actually very private. My doodles are my ‘me time’ turned into physical forms. I find it soothing to get lost in a swirling world of colour and fine lines as I carefully navigate across the page. My performances are less concentrated and more physical expressions of my innermost thoughts which can only be conveyed and released through this immersive and bodily art form. I think the reason Bacon’s quote caught me was because I myself can relate to it quite strongly. Although it is not always a conscious decision, life is fundamentally a core part of my artwork. As Eva Hesse once said “my inner soul art and life are inseparable”.

 

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Tyler Coop

I can remember being in my first year of uni and looking up to the third years thinking it was impossible that one day I would be putting on a show. I’ve always kind of felt that when I looked up to older students even at school; I remember wondering how people sat exams, how people traveled by themselves, how people had the confidence to drive cars, etc etc. All these thoughts feel silly and irrelevant now looking back, because of course you learn and grow and change. I didn’t realise however quite how much an art course would change me. I never imagined I would go down the route of performance art, if anything I’ve always been someone who shied away from the stage and was instead content painting background scenery and doing backstage make-up. Yet during the time on this course I have experimented with mediums I never planned to work with such as sculpture, print, photography, video, projection, all sorts. I’ve really pushed the boat out in ways I never imagined or expected.

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Woon Prize Nominee Sheyda Porter 

I think that’s what’s so wonderful about embarking on a course as practical and creative as this. Not only are you exploring your artistic potentials, but you are also exploring the tools which allow you to realise your ideas. You’re learning so much theory too, with all the seminars, Art History lectures  and of course extensive research and reading meaning my knowledge of the artworld has grown so much. As has my coffee table collection of artist books which are now looking to require a bookshelf…

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Saman Ahmadzadeh

That’s partially the exciting thing however, the fact that my bookshelf keeps expanding. The fact that despite finishing this course, I am nowhere near finished. There’s so much more to explore, there’s so much more to experiment with. Despite all of the nostalgia I am currently feeling, I am also feeling incredibly inspired. Seeing everybody’s work come together in this way is amazing not only because there are some incredibly strong and thought-provoking works, but also because we have witnessed one another’s artistic journeys. We’ve seen experiments in the studio go horribly wrong, or moments where tubes of purple paint explode everywhere (yes, it had to be all over me), moments where you walk into the studio to find your studio floor has been taken over by glitter, glue and sprinkles (I have the best studio pal – we are the messiest bunch together and it’s been great!)

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Rebecca Gavigan & Victoria McDermott

So seeing everything reduced to this clean cut and perfectly executed Show is almost overwhelming. I suppose it must be kind of like being a director and finally watching your own Broadway Show. You’ve had moments where everyone is yelling backstage, costume changes haven’t worked, scripts haven’t been learnt, people are stressing and scrabbling around. Yet on the night it all flows smoothly and could not be more perfect. And in that moment you have a feeling of pride in how it has all came together, in how the stress and tears of backstage have dissolved as the characters dominate the stage. I suppose it’s kind of like that, just instead of one director, there are seventy-eight emerging artists.

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Joseph Crookall

Seventy-eight of us whose work could not differ more greatly from the other. I will always remember local artist Narbi Price saying in one of his talks at Vane Gallery, that the more artwork that is made, the more there is a burden on artists to come. This has stuck with me because it is so very true. A lot of people dispel history and say it’s in the past, it doesn’t matter. Yet in being an artist and making artwork it is absolutely critical you know your history, you have to be so aware of what came before you. I have found this particularly vital in looking at the female body in Performance Art, because the 1960s really shaped a lot of things today in that realm and no one can ignore that. So when Narbi said that, it really hit home and seeing such a broad range of work in the Degree Show alone, it’s resonating with me more than ever and making me excited to push things even further.

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Alexandra Karyn

Northumbria University Degree Show 2016

 

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Jack Davison

It’s degree show season at the moment which is why I have been so absent from this blog. It’s nice to finally sit back and be able to enjoy the artwork without the stress of deadline, rushing around like a madwoman and having to juggle so many things. Today marks the start of the final week of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree show. It’s open daily 10-5pm so get yourself down here if you fancy a look! I’m exhibiting in a curated environment along with seven other students in Gallery North and at the time of putting all of this together I was also organising and coordinating the degree show catalogue that goes alongside the show (hence my prolonged absence from the blog!) Thankfully I had a brilliant team to work with in putting this publication together, however it was a lot of hard work to say the least and it has taught me a lot about time management! I’ve learnt a gained so much from the editing process and putting things to print so it’s been a fantastic (but at times) stressful experience. As has putting together a curated show. I have never experienced anything like this before, so it was really interesting to work so closely with others whose work differed so greatly from my own.

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Kat Bevan

Putting together a Degree Show is even more work than you imagine; there are so many tiny things that pile up and make all the difference, I couldn’t believe it! My to do list at the time was just endless and expanding constantly, especially with all of the work that was going into the catalogue. As a course we were all so busy during the preparation period that none of us had any time to see each other’s work in advance, so preview night last week had the most amazing atmosphere as everything was revealed. Instead of being all rugged in studio and paint splattered clothes, everyone was dressed up beautifully and we all finally had the chance to see each others’ work!

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Alan Barrett & David Graham

I must say I am proud to be a part of this show. There are so many incredibly works on display and the diversity of it all just amazes me. I was fortunate to have an insight into a lot of people’s practice prior to the show given the amount of text editing I was doing for the catalogue, so it was particularly rewarding to see it all in person on the night. Even still I was not prepared for the level of professionalism, the attention students had paid to the smallest of details and like I said the range of work. There was everything you could imagine and beyond present; performances, glitch based videos, fully immersive installations, workshops, digital art and green screen, unconventional painting displays, you name it, it was all there!

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Jenny Wheatley

I think  a lot of us were nervous for the preview and opening to the public, but on preview night I feel every student let go of any of those feelings and instead just felt relief and delight. It really was an incredible moment to see everyone come together after all their hard work and I think the show really does reflect the efforts that have gone into it. The pieces are full of so much energy; walking into Jack Davison’s installation with it’s  bombardment of pink and heavy club music is instantly absorbing. As a viewer you feel transported from the University corridors you had just left into an erotic jungle of disco balls and plush pink velvet. Being in a studio with Jenny Wheatley for two years now has been amazing, as I’ve seen her practice grow and adapt on a first hand basis – I’ve seen the tiniest of changes day to day. So when this year she started deconstructing the materials incorporated in painting and playing about with jars filled to the brim with paint, I was incredibly excited to see how her work would evolve for the show. The end result is an expansion of bold beautiful colours which cascade from wall to floor with a scattering of paint filled jars littered across the canvas.

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Jordan Boyle

I think that what the most exciting aspect of the show; seeing three years worth of people’s work come together in this environment. It’s incredibly strange having submitted and now being finished, I feel almost numb at the thought of it all coming to an end.  Not that it’s really coming to an end, I will never ever stop making art – for me that would be like stopping breathing! Studio life however is over for the time being. One day I will hopefully be able to afford one again, but I will be sad to say goodbye to such a creative environment. Coming in every day and making work alongside people, having them tell you when it’s rubbish or when it’s worth it, pushing your practice into realms you never expected, utilising all the facilities, it’s an experience I will never forget and I am so incredibly grateful for.

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Daniel Mupungu

Walking round the show you can see that people have made the most of these aspects; students have pushed the boundaries of what art is and what it can be. Yet students have also furthered aspects such as the studio aesthetic. That fully immersive feeling of making and the tactility that comes with it. A prime example of this would be Alice O’Hagen’s stunning work, I am so drawn in by the way in which she has captured the trace of touch and human gesture within the materials. I love the way in which she plays with softer elements which manifest in the form of duvets and evoke a strong sense of comfort, against more solid plaster and clay-based materials. Then there’s fact it is all more ceiling as opposed to floor based which personally I find incredibly compelling, given it plays on the conventions of sculpture and it’s almost like an Alice In Wonderland topsy-turvy environment.

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Alice O’Hagen

I think one of the reasons Alice’s work appealed to me so much was not only because I felt wrapped up by it and could imagine every movement in its making, but also because I almost long for that immersive sense of making again. Having worked predominantly with performance this year, I am ready to take a break from it and go back to painting for the next while. That is not to say I am giving up performance, I don’t think you ever give anyartform up, but you have to do what feels right at the time. Given that I have been performing live for both assessment, the preview and throughout the duration of the show, I have found it can be quite draining both emotionally and also physically (especially given my performance requires me binding myself up in 24 metres of ribbon! Quite restricting to my breathing let’s just say…) So for now I’m happy to take a break from it and instead bury myself in a pile of artbooks and sketchbooks as I start doodling and painting away with my watery inks. After all this hard work, it’s time to take it easy and enjoy the show!

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Marina Collinson 

Artist Takeover at The Laing Art Gallery

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At the weekend The Laing Art Gallery held an amazing Artist Takeover Event. It was the first time they had ever held such an event and it was partially a testing ground and partially to raise awareness in their aim of winning a bursary. If they succeed and win this bursary it will bring artist Marcus Coates to the gallery to host a ‘Museums at Night’ event in October. Given the success of Saturday, I am feeling positive for The Laing, however it will all depend on voting (see bottom of blog page). The Artist Takeover was unlike anything I had ever participated in before. It was a very exciting day with the event running from 10-4pm. Not only was the event open to working artists, but to anyone who considered themselves an artist and a whole range of mediums were therefore accepted. These included contemporary dance, paper-cutting, a blackboard of ideas, modernist installation art, live painting, charcoal and inks, and performance art. This made for an eclectic variety of practices and a room bubbling with creative energy and people. 

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I myself had proposed to do a piece of Performance Art which explores the relationship between the serenity of yoga and the manifestation of trauma within the female mind and body. I had never proposed anything before and this was a very interesting proposal in the sense that only one sentence was required. This was challenging  yet helpful to me; as to sum up my work in such a short word count is difficult, but also beneficial as it forced me to really consider and realise what my work is currently about. 

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So not only was the day itself exciting and new, but the experience was also a great one. I spoke to so many different and like minded people, artists, non-artists, the curator. It was a day filled with learning and inspiration, of pushing the boundaries of what art could be and the way we view conventional gallery spaces. It was also a whole new experience for me performance wise. As it was an entire day event, I decided to perform more than once, which I have never done in a single day before. I thought I would be more nervous doing this, however the relaxed and creative atmosphere helped put me at ease. I did the first performance in the room with all the other artists but in a different room for the other two in order to create a different environment for myself. It was interesting how the differing rooms affected and shaped how the performance evolved as apart from my prop of ribbons it was entirely improvised.

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I had a sound piece to accompany my work which filled the gallery space with the sound of my breathing, which brought an unsual atmosphere into the room. In comparison to a lot of places, I would consider The Laing quite a traditional gallery as it holds a lot of spectacle artwork such as that of John Martin (he is one of my favourite artists and I actually did a performance piece in the room where his works were hung which was an incredibly exciting moment for me!) Yet the Artist Takeover completely transformed this stereotype of it for me. I realised that The Laing was willing to engage with its local artistic community. It is a rarity for local artists to be asked into a professional gallery space which is why I was so honoured to have my proposal accepted. It was such a great experience and can hopefully be the first of many events such as these.

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I think a lot of people can feel isolated from the arts or not good enough to either engage or practice art. Events such as this however I feel help break down those boundaries; they make you realise that art can be anything. There was dance, there was mime and there was performance present in the gallery alongside more traditional art forms such as painting and it was refreshing to have these conventional forms of artistic segregation removed and the broad umbrella of the word ‘art’ applied instead.

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Art is limitless, but art also relies on an artistic community and I think an event such as this truly harnesses this and taps into what contemporary art means today. Hopefully this sense of community and artistic discussion can be expanded and built on with Coates’ arrival in October. 

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If you’re interested in finding out more about the October event, take a look at The Laing Art Gallery’s website: 

https://laingartgallery.org.uk/votesforcoates

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ Part III

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People often say that a photo is worth a thousand words and I am a strong believer in this. Photos tell stories, document fond memories and capture funny moments. Personal photos are the stills to your life. Documentary photos allow us visual access to the past; whether it is a glimpse into the harrowing life of trench warfare, the horrific effects of Napalm in Vietnam, or more light-hearted occasions such as Royal Weddings. It’s incredible to think that we can see a visual of someone who existed hundreds of years ago, that we can put a face to the name of ancient geniuses. ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ demonstrates the importance of the photograph. Within the exhibition this takes on a variety of forms, such as a photographic collage of family photos as above. 

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It also took the form of more explicit photographs, such as this found postcard of an Iranian pop star. As I said before, a picture is worth a thousand words and what interests me most about this fact is that different people will all take different things from what they see. Such as with the above photo; some people will find it crude, others will find it sexy, generally people will find it cheeky and naughty. Personally I like it, I think it’s got a wacky side to it and a sense of pride within the woman as she commands her body. I also find the setting incredibly interesting and the material of her net leotard provides an interesting contrast against the plush velvet of the chair. Having written extensively about ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’, I have realised that as a whole it is of course a flourishing exhibition. Yet it’s only really when you break it down and truly examine the details that you realise just how effective and important every single element is. 

 

Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia Part II

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is a unique exhibition unlike anything I’ve seen in Newcastle before, despite having lived here for almost three years now. This show  perfectly encapsulates what contemporary art represents. It is about making art in the present and using this as a platform to reflect and comment on the world around us. The strength of this show lies in its explorations of history; the revolution in Iran and how an oppressive regime followed, forcing artists and musicians to close shop and adapt to more censored ways of working. Yet throughout the show this historical narrative is not overly explicit and loud in its protest, but instead it is subtle and sophisticated. Snapshots of the world and stories of the past come through in the objects, in the travelling and collection process that has been carried out.

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One of the things I love most about this exhibition is it creates a real sense of the nomadic lifestyle. The evidence of travelling to far flung places and finding hidden gems is entirely present throughout. It makes me want to be more imaginative with my findings. I am a sentimental person in the sense that I have an old shoe box filled with my special moments. The box contains what would be considered throwaway items to most people, such as a cinema ticket or a used stamp, but for me these little things hold precious memories. My box contains items such as concert tickets, doodles done on restaurant napkins, brooches, Kinder Egg toys, clothes labels, cards I’ve been sent, photographs, plastic and childish rings, the list goes on. Now, some people may consider that junk and to an extent I suppose it is, but each of those items retains a precious moment for me; a good time where I was laughing with my siblings or joking with my boyfriend. Through items we capture and record life and ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’is the perfect example of this. 

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Having lived and travelled a lot throughout my life, it’s fair to say I have my fair share of collected exotic items. Little marble statues from India, patterned scarves from Kenya, silver rings from Oman, postcards from all over Scotland. These items are the little jigsaw pieces that come together to document my life and where I’ve been. I love the surprise of going into an old handbag pocket and finding within it a keyring I picked up on my travels. Much like curator Sara Makari-Aghdam, I find stories in the items we keep and I think that is why I love this exhibition so much, because I can truly relate to it. Sara discovered her father’s old cassette collection of Persian pop music years ago and it has fueled and inspired this show. What I find most intriguing about objects is their own personal journey; if it’s a vintage dress who owned it before it was procured? What kind of occassions was it worn to? Was the person told by their lover that they look lovely? Looking at old items, all these questions come flooding to my mind. Through objects a strong sense of presence comes through and in ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’, this presence is excitedly overwhelming. 

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’

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Having been away from Newcastle for a while, visiting Vane Gallery’s preview of ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ was the best way to get me inspired enough to return to writing. Curated by Sara Makari-Aghdam, this exhibition explores her dual heritage, as she is an exotic blend of Persian and English. ‘Vinyl Icons…’ also explores the rich Iranian culture of the 1960s and 70s by combining the work of five artists, three of whom lived through the 1979 Revolution. The show is therefore bubbling with culture and heritage, histories and lost pasts. It encapsulates these themes through an explosion of colours and textures; the pieces bounce off the walls in their ecstatic vibrancy. As I enter the gallery space I am greeted by the soaring melodies of Turkish and Iranian pop music and a wave of nostalgia instantly hits and transports me back to the souks and markets of Oman. I recall the smell of incense that used to burn as I walked along the corniche to watch the sun set over the Omani coastline. Having lived in the Middle East for several years, this exhibition brought about a lot of sentimental feelings for me.

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‘Vinyl Icons…’ consisted of an eclectic blend of items, much like an Arabian or Turkish market would. There was opulent jewellery and brooches dripping from and decorating vintage clothes collected and found in America. There were vintage Clarks shoes from 1969, there were extravagant light boxes paying homage to religious shrines, there were photographic montages, family photos, handpainted dresses, a wide collection of sexy record covers and vintage magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. There was even a piece inspired by Afsoon’s mood boards that she creates in her London studio. 

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I was particularly taken by this piece. As the eye shifts across the work, it is constantly met with fantastically bold items such as maps, stamps, tapestries, dish towels and jewellery. It is highly tactile piece that for me really appealed as I felt like I was being invited into the artist’s methods and thought process. I could see from the variety of items present that collecting is integral to her practice. Colours, textures and the considered distribution of both these elements contributed to the success of this beautifully energetic work. 

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Talking with Afsoon, she told me she uses a lot of matchboxes in her work. She likes the surprise of finding unexpected items stored inside such as a hair pin or a tooth, when she buys and collects vintage match boxes from places. Who would have thought an everyday object that I mostly associate with frustration (given my inability to light most matches) could be transformed into something so delicate and beautiful? Housed in their little plinth-based box, these match boxes stood proudly showing off their collaged covers. 

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I was delighted by the constant surprises this exhibition held for me. What originally seemed like pretty little hand-painted shoes (above), soon revealed as I circulated the delicate figure of a nude female body. This simple yet highly effective manipulation of the object was for me one of the best parts of the exhibition. It was cheeky, beautiful and unexpected. Hand-painted shoes were also present on another lower laying plinth, which brought the eye nearer to ground level. From a distance the boots look as if they are decorated in loose swirls, but upon closer inspection exotic feminine eyes can be revealed. 

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 Feminine motifs ran throughout the gallery, with dresses, jewellery, naked bodies and portraits littering the walls. Having lived in regions of the Middle East where women wear abyas all of the time, it was interesting to see a mix of clothing  that ranged from the hand made to collected  vintage items. It was also really interesting to see such Arabian looking objects such as the vinyl case (below left), cleverly placed next to another casing with such an erotic depiction of the female body (below right). Yet Iran was originally very much influenced by the West and was very liberal and this exhibition successfully highlights and explores this blend of East meeting West.

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is for me one of those exhibitions that completely transforms the white walls of the gallery space. Through the highly visual and tactile materials, the variety of items on display and the ever-present music, I felt entirely transported to another place. I felt incredibly inspired by the colours of it all and the memories of Oman that it reminded me of. It was a strange sensation as I stepped back out onto ordinary Pilgrim Street and my doorway into the rich culture of the East faded and remained within the walls of Vane Gallery. I was transported from one world to another, but that is not the end of my experiences as I will definitely be returning to this show on numerous occasions!

To read more blog posts about this exhibition see:

Part II

Part III

Performance Art

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Janine Antoni ‘Loving Care’, image sourced from Artnet.

Having always used and worked with the body as a theme and a medium, it seems only natural that this year I have started to work with Performance Art. This was a movement that came into existence in the 1960s and 70s and is rooted in Conceptual Art. Performance Art is where the artist uses their own body or the body of a model to perform tasks and actions that become the artwork themselves. Famous Performance Artists include Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, Yves Klein, Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman – the list is endless! Pictured above is one of my favourite artists, who has been a huge inspiration since I discovered her two years ago; Janine Antoni performing ‘Loving Care’. This is a work in which she dipped her hair in the hair dye and used her body as a painterly tool. This is in a sense a parody of Jackson Pollock’s painterly techniques and the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement, as well as being a social commentary on the domesticity of women. 

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‘Loving Care’ has been a piece that has stuck with me for a while now and I have always been curious to test this idea of extending the paintbrush beyond itself. I recently cut my hair and therefore thought it would be interesting to do a performance which acted as a reversal to that.  I also wanted to make a gesture towards the impracticality of hair extensions and their artificial qualities. I cut my hair really short, so I wanted to extend it really long. I used the stretchy exercise bands that most people use in the gym, partially because they were a practical object to use in this instance and partially due to the presence of the gym and exercise in my work. 

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The white objects I am using are obscure and grotesque limb-like forms that I made out of papier-mâché. This was a very laborious and time-consuming task not only because I made a lot of these objects, but also because of their drying time and formation process. However, the labour was another element to this performance. In it I am not only exploring this idea of body image through the representation of hair extensions, but I am also exploring the repetitive and mundane. Labour is an element not only in the construction of the objects, but also in creating the drawing given how many times I walked up and down the paper.

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There was also an element of pain present as although these objects are relatively light, when attached to your hair and roots they are less so! I had a pot of ink and water that I kept dipping these objects into and my intention was to continue until I had used this up, however the pain prevented me from doing so.

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It was interesting to blend such traditional art materials (cartridge paper and Indian ink) with an act that was so far-removed from conventional painting methods. This mode of working falls into the category of Action Painting, a movement that really took off in the 1960s and is something that I myself have never tried before. There have been moments and elements of it present in my work before, but never in such a direct way. 

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Given the fact that this art form falls and touches on a lot of aspects of performance itself, costume is consequently a very important part and something I put a lot of consideration into. In some cases I have gone for the stereotypical artsy all-black ensemble, but in this instance I wanted to return to the studio aesthetic which I think tied in well with the rest of the materials I was using.

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As well as thinking about what I’ll put on my body for performance work, I also think about what I’ll remove. I am a complete jewellery junkie, always adorned with rings and dangly earrings! I tend to remove all of these elements for the purpose of performance work. However in this instance I kept it all on as I wanted the jewellery to be a part of the work, as an indicator of its constant presence on my body. 

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I think for me one of the most interesting things about working with Performance Art is focusing on and thinking about the objects left behind and how they are imbued both with the trace of human presence and a past kinetic action. What’s exciting is that although the performance is an ephemeral event, the objects left behind hold so much potential for further exploration.

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John Virtue

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I was looking through some old work when I came across these images of my First Year studio. This was probably the one and only time my choice of topic deviated from Body Art and instead focused on the natural landscape. I think I surprised even myself in this shift as there was no real explanation for it apart from my discovery of oil paint. I think I felt that abstract landscapes were a better means of exploring this medium, as opposed to again working with the female body which I was already so familiar with. This shift was also due to the fact I discovered the work of John Virtue (see below).

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‘Landscape No. 707’, 2003-4, image sourced from The National Gallery website.

I fell in love with his whimsical monochrome depictions; how they were abstract yet figurative simultaneously. How he combined nature with industry. The blend of such intense darkness against the stark white also lends a satisfying balance to his work I found. This equilibrium allows the eye to shift peacefully across the page, taking the time to absorb intricate aspects such as texture which are so imbued with the studio aesthetic.

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What I found particularly interesting about Virtue’s work was his ritualistic aspect of his art making. Every day without fail he would walk to the same location to sketch. This of course resulted in an excess of drawings, but the dedication this required fascinated me. So for a while I chose to copy this method of working and walked to a park everyday. It was quite out of my way and in some cases an inconvenience to all of the other daily necessities occuring in my life. However, having this task and this escape also gave me the best kind of zehn I could have wished for. I had an excuse to leave behind the rush and pace of daily life to focus fully on ritual-based art making. 

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I also tried to employ Virtue’s use of the monochrome palette by removing colour from my work. Depicting landscapes and working with oil paint was a time where I was using really vibrant and sunset-based hues, so this removal was a real challenge for me. It forced me to think a lot more critically about texture, shape, scale and all of the other elements that could compensate for lack of colour. I poked needle-thin holes through paper, I worked with impasto and modelling paste, I used charcoal and inks to create that messy studio look. I tried everything and had great fun experimenting, but of course I gradually began bringing colour back into my work. I also sadly had to stop my daily excursions to the park given all my other commitments, but I may some day start that again for a brief period at least. Employing the working methods of another artist was a really interesting and liberating experience for me, as I was giving up all sense of control that I had over my work and instead completely yielding myself to working in a certain way. It was an incredibly enjoyable experiment and is something I think I’ll definitely go back to at some point!