Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous

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Installation shot including various works by Salvador Dali

“Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.”
– André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism

Recently I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on what I thought would be a brief afternoon excursion. Almost four hours later I emerged from’Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous’ enlightened and inspired. Marvelous; there could not be a more apt word to apply to this broad collection of artworks. Immediately upon entry you are greeted by renowned and famous names including Picasso, Man Ray and Duchamp. Seeing a collection of those artists merely in the corridor – before I’d even entered a room – made me realise the sheer stature of this exhibition. This was and is quite the collection of Surrealist works. Never before have I seen so many Dali and Magritte pieces clustered in such close proximity. The result was mesmerizing. I felt like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole into a world of dreams, blue endless skies, obscure depictions and dripping, blurring creatures. For someone who has read countless books on Dada and Surrealism, two art movements that changed and shaped the course of art history, it was like walking into a shrine dedicated to works of the past. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

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Installation shot hosting the works of René Magritte

The exhibition was beautifully curated and very insightful in terms of how the collections came about. As a viewer you are given an in depth account of how Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch came to acquire the works. This was done through a series of conducted interviews. I thought this was a very effective component of the exhibition as in among all of these monumental and historical works by Miro and Magritte, there were TV screens with the interviews being played out. With the giggles between partners Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch echoing throughout the space as they discussed their plans for their collections, I couldn’t help but feel that their stories brought the collections and the artwork even more to life. As a viewer, not only were you busy plummeting into a whimsical world within the frame and trying to decipher and make sense of something so non-nonsensical, but you also became aware of how it came to be hung on the wall in front of you. The care and thought that went into the collections and the articulate eye required to amount such works, was extraordinary. It was fascinating hearing how Gabrielle Keiller had realised Duchamp’s artistic potential and decided to gather his works. Of course it was equally fascinating seeing the works themselves; Duchamp’s mini replication of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors‘ was rather mesmerising in itself. 

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‘Female Fig Leaf’,  Marcel Duchamp, 1961

Marcel Duchamp is an artists I have studied very closely, so for me seeing his work was kind of like seeing a celebrity on the red carpet. His concept of the Readymade turned the art world upside down when he declared a urinal a work of art. A Readymade is a work that consists of objects that were, believe it or not, ready made. They become an artwork essentially through the declaration of the artist. This of course caused outrage in the artworld at the time and Duchamp’s urinal, or ‘Fountain‘ as he named it, was in fact refused entry to the Parisian Salon des Indépendants. At the time it was revolutionary and outrageous, now this act and the creation of the readymade is just another dictionary term in the art collection alongside Minimalism, Impressionism and all of the other movements which were not accepted at the time as they are presently. I loved’Female Fig Leaf‘ (above), I think it was one of my highlights of the exhibition not only because it was a Duchamp piece, but also because of its cheekiness. It is an imprint of the female genetalia, which Duchamp actually gifted to his wife. 

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‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’, Pablo Picasso, 1932

Picasso, dare I say it, has always been very hit or miss for me. I can appreciate his work, his technique, his skill and his status. However his work has never quite struck the cord with me on a personal level. That is of course with the exception of ‘Guernica’ (1937), one of his most famous works depicting the horrors and brutalities of war. However, in this Surrealist exhibition, I was for once incredibly taken by a Picasso piece in the form of ‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’. It absolutely fascinated me. The title provided the perfect insight into the subject of the work and the colours and composition were incredibly satisfying to my eye. I love the muted and restricted palettes of mint green and baby blue alongside the triangular creations. I was so drawn to this work that I even bought a postcard of it as a momento to the exhibition! 

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‘Couple aux tȇtes pleines de nuages’, Salvador Dali, 9136

‘Surreal Encounters’ was surreal for me in more ways than one. It was of course surreal in the sense that I was seeing the biggest body of Surrealism I have yet witnessed in my lifetime, but it was also because I was in a dumbfounded haze of surreal disbelief at seeing works such as these. Particularly the large scale Dali pieces. The skill and techniques, the mastery Dali displays with his paint and the colour choices and balances are all compiled together to form compositions so breathtaking that I was grateful to be able to occupy the seats dotted throughout the gallery space! It was one of those exhibitions where you really have to sit down and just breathe in and absorb the work in front of you. Realise how insignificant you are when faced with these grand works, grand scales and even grander artists. There was a room filled only with Dali and Magritte pieces which has to have been my favourite. Mainly because René Magritte is in fact one of my favourite artists. Coming from someone who has a very long list of favourite artists, that is quite the compliment to Magritte. I will never forget the first time I saw his work. It was at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Again, there was a room filled primarily with Dali and Magritte and I remember feeling as if the air in my body had been physically knocked out of me. I had only ever come across these works in books or on the internet prior to that moment and to be greeted face to face with the brush strokes (or lack of them) of Magritte was truly one of my most memorable moments in my experience of viewing art.

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‘La Représentation’, René Magritte, 1937

Walking into the Dali/Magritte room in the Modern Art Gallery was very much like experiencing my Guggenheim epiphany all over again. Seeing Magritte’s countless sky scapes, his mysterious face reflections and erotic depictions cast a spell of serenity over me. Time seemed to stand still as I immersed myself in the works, trying to read them and imagine what strange things had been blurring through the mind of Magritte as he painted. I tend to avoid reading the information that sits alongside a painting, at least until I return to the exhibition a second time, as I prefer to formulate my own ideas and opinions about a piece before giving in to the direction leaflets and writings provide. Trying to read a Surrealist work however is quite the task and I decided that the best way to do this was to free my mind. To allow my conscious to let go of assumptions and float and drift instead into more sporadic realms.

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‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, Dorothea Tanning, 1943

I think ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik‘ was one of my favourite works within the exhibition (not counting all of the Magritte’s, that goes without saying given how big a fan I am!) However, I have never come across Tanning’s work and this piece really stuck with me. It’s predominantly the bold colours that appeal to me; the blood red carpet against the sunshine yellow of the sunflower. The angles of the staircase alongside the open door at the end of the corridor. The way in which the girl’s hair appears to be sucked and gusted upwards towards the ceiling, yet she remains stood still and straight as if the presence of a giant sunflower on the stairwell was a perfectly natural occurrence. Yet there lies the success of the Surrealists; the ability to take the abnormal, the strange, the absurd and transform it into something so nonchalant that we begin to question our own senses of normality. They take the ordinary and transform it into such an extraordinary that we are left both stunned and speechless yet simultaneously brimming with an overflowing cauldron of ideas in our heads. In heads thatupon witnessing these works of art suddenly feel too small for all of these bizarre and beautiful notions. Consequently, the only thing that we can do is release ourselves to the surreal and the experience it provides. Needless to say, this exhibition succeeded in providing that experience and more. I was left reeling and contemplating it for days and this contemplation will continue, as will our own surreal encounters. 

 

We were not allowed to take photographs in the exhibition,therefore my images are sourced from the following websites:

https://www.nationalgalleries.org

http://georginacoburnarts.co.uk

http://www.arts-press.co.uk

 

 

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Edinburgh Escapism

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I recently moved to Edinburgh and am still configuring its layout and exploring the city almost a month later. I feel this sense of exploration will be constant the whole time I am here. Edinburgh is one of those cities where you are never stuck for things to do, or places to see, or areas to explore. For someone who enjoys long head clearing walks as much as me, it is the perfect place. Yes, during tourist and Fringe Festival season the streets were packed; people crammed against each other on the pavement unable to overtake or cut through the crowd to cross the road. It was heaving. Now that the Festival is over, it has quietened down somewhat. Much to my relief, as I am not a huge crowd fan. I am however, an architecture lover and here in Edinburgh, everywhere you look there are beautiful buildings! There’s the Castle on the hill, there is the quaint area of Stockbridge which was so picturesque I didn’t mind getting lost! There are streets filled with older buildings, the  Scottish National Galleries boasting proud pillars at their entrance, the train station even sits nestled opposite Princes Street Gardens. I feel like I am having an affair behind the back of all the other cities I have visited given Edinburgh is all so breathtaking!

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It is a truly beautiful place and having visited Berlin this summer and been so consumed by its incredible culture, I can’t help feeling that a bubbling city like this is the creative starting point for me. It’s the energy, it’s the atmosphere; both of which are infectious. I’ve visited Edinburgh for countless day trips in the past, so it’s strange having to remind myself I am now a resident needing to commit an Edinburgh postcode to memory! Although it’s going to take some adjustment and I am still settling in, I am of course very excited by it all. Who isn’t with a city move?I feel as if the city has been waiting for me. As if this was the place I was meant to come back to. It’s funny how humans can have such an affinity with a place, but I feel with the countless art exhibitions and the constant creativity, this city could not be more perfect for someone like me. It’s picturesque and it’s peaceful. I have recently spent a lot of time sat reading in the Gardens, just people watching and absorbing the city and it’s occupants.

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I think contemplation is incredibly important during times of change and transition. Fortunately I have had the time for that this summer. Usually life is so busy and consuming that we forget to stop and think. We forget to put our phones down and not check them constantly. We forget to look out the window instead of choosing a playlist. We forget to be dreamers and instead glue ourselves to screens. People in airports, people on trains, they are all frantically typing away, scrolling down their tablets. I often feel saddened by this, because with all the days in our diaries crammed full of meetings and appointments, it’s difficult to slow down and tear yourself off the rollercoaster of life. Which is why I think this move has been so good for me. I am guilty of being consumed by the pressures of modern life; of forgetting to eat lunch and running from one meeting to the next. Yet I feel Edinburgh is a place where I can still balance a crazy, wild schedule, yet also make time for myself within the city.

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I feel that the amount of greenery everywhere in Edinbrugh provides a refreshing escapism from the rooms we occupy. Glancing round, there isn’t just granite and infrastructure, but vast expanses of nature serving a reminder that our busy lives are just a tiny microcosm in the universe. Little streams that gush and flow, the roses in the Gardens, the bees humming through the trees and the squirrels tamely venturing out all exist quite happily alongside the dull thrum of traffic and trams. All of the natural elements provide a reminder that we can stop and look. We can breathe in and think. We can sit down and we can start again.

A Time of Reflection

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I’ve been away from the blog for a while as I felt I needed some reflection time. Time to stop and contemplate. Time to consider and reflect. I wanted to take a step back from everything following the pace of life during degree show period. Both my creative and mental energy had been wholeheartedly consumed and I therefore decided to withdraw from participating in physical elements in favour of simply reading some theory. The fact I am now studio-less has partly contributed to this shift in thinking. Not that I’m saying you need a studio to make art, I’m just saying I am currently in the adjustment phase and therefore having a break. Yet when I say that and taking time out, I’m lying. I am not a person who takes time out and does nothing – that’s just not in my nature. I get twitchy and start doing the washing up or something. For me taking time out is putting a pause on the practical. Performance for the time being is not on the cards. But my creativity is still bubbling away as I have been dabbling in light painting activities and a little bit of photography. Yet these activities in themselves have been scarce as I’ll be consumed in a doodle mood one minute and then the next my sketchbook goes untouched for days. Books instead have become my predominant creative outlet for the time being.

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Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Or that you feel will stay with you for a very very long time? Well, that happened to me the other day with Hand Ulrich Obrist’s ‘Ways of Curating’. What a read! I have not ripped through a book so quickly in a long time. Having said that, I didn’t really have a spare minute over deadline and degree show time.  Yet now that I have finished my degree, I have been sat reading in cafes and in the garden, watching people go by and observing daily life. Contemplating. Thinking. I’ve come to realise that my mind is very much designed for research; for absorbing information, words and visuals. I will be moving to Edinburgh next month to embark on an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism (I am aware that is quite a mouthful!) I could not be more excited as I feel Edinburgh is the perfect transition from Newcastle. In the interim period however I have been in Aberdeen, which is the city of death for anyone or anything creative in my opinion. I’m not saying that’s the case in every instance, but the lack of gallery visits is starting to agitate me. All the more reason that books have become my seducer.

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‘Ways of Curating’ by Obrist has left quite the impression on me. Obrist is a world-renowned curator, critic and art historian. He is currently director at the Serpentine Galleries in London, has published a wide array of books, conducted endless artist interviews and revolutionized the way in which we think of curation. Needless to say, I found him and his professional exploits quite inspiring. Prior to reading this book, I had always viewing curating as quite a static activity. Arranging and rearranging the works of an artist in a room. Conversing with said artist to gauge their artistic needs. Engaging public with the final displayed work, etc. etc. How wrong I was! Obrist entirely transforms my way of thinking about curation with his discussions of shifting and temporal artistic platforms, the idea of curation as an artistic practice itself, the importance of stimulating conversations and the methodologies which surround and extend and exhibition beyond itself and into forms such as 24hr conversation marathons. For the first time, curating actually appeals to me as it is so much more than arranging art in a room. It is about bringing people together. About exchanging ideas and bridging cultures. It is about travelling and exploring. It is a journey of creation.

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It’s been a strange few weeks for me as I go from being a full time art student with a public show and a studio in the vibrant city of Newcastle, to being a graduate living in the granite grey city of Aberdeen over summer. Quite the shift. Yet it’s been a transformative one. I feel I have learnt from my period of non-production. I almost feel it has taught me more than when I am fully absorbed in my artwork. Somewhat ironic I know, but in those moments as I am fully aware of myself as a creative and an artist, yet it’s only really after all this reading and reflecting that I realise how much of a thinker I am. You might wonder why I have not turned to writing more given this has become the case. I’m not sure myself really, I just did not feel compelled. I suppose even that felt too creative. I wanted simply to sit back and read about others being creative and harness my energy through them. And I think it’s been a good idea as I am now inspired and itching to create again, in one way or another. I’m definitely hoping for a residency at some point. I am off to Berlin not long from now and for me that is just as much a research trip as a holiday with all of the beautiful art galleries and historical museums I’ll be visiting!

The End is Nigh

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Catherine McLaughlin

So today marks the final day of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree Show. It all closes at 4pm so get yourself down to catch a final glimpse of all the amazing work on display. I will be doing my final performance in Gallery North at 2:30pm which is both exciting and unbelievable. It will also be my final performance in Newcastle (for the time being at least) as I will be moving to Edinburgh this summer – another wonderfully artistic city! Time for some exciting exploring in a new place, yet much to my delight I will still be relatively close to Newcastle and my much loved BALTIC on the Quayside. Following my work this year, I plan on taking a break from performance art and instead hope to  focus more on my research, writing and theory – with of course some practical thrown in here and there.

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Matthew Young & Nikki Lawson

I was delighted to meet up with Luke from Left Leg Gallery the other day who is interested in collaborating with me having seen some of my work and the Degree Show, so there are definitely some exciting practical elements for the future! We met up, discussed and had a really interesting conversation which touched on so many different topics, but primarily focused on both of our interest in the gym; the culture, the colours, the ‘uniform’ if you will, the mindsets, the stereotypes and this will form the basis of a future collaboration.  It was really inspiring to talk to someone so enthusiastic and interesting and who shared so many of my views. It is moments like this where I could not be more happy to be making the kind of art that I do and feeding off the energy of the places and people.

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Kathryn Harker

I will be incredibly sad to leave Newcastle behind but saying goodbye to studio life I think is going to be the hardest aspect of my farewell. Seeing the diversity of Northumbria’s Degree Show really made me realise this. Going from seeing all the experimentation among my peers on a daily basis, to making art without this strong sense of community, is going to be a strange sensation. I will just have to find myself a new unit in which to make my art! Yet I love the fact that in the studios here I’d have no real idea of what someone’s work consisted of and then I’d walk into a project space where they’re experimenting one day to total surprises. I love the fact that people work with things I myself would never even consider, such as camera obscuras and natural light. In saying this I am referring to Kathryn Harker’s technical photography and the way in which she has transformed a space into an experience through her manipulation of light (above). Depending on the time of day you go, your experience of the piece will be entirely different and I think this ephemeral quality is incredibly appealing. As is the beauty of the light that is captured, it feels so delicate and fragile, especially given that you know it’s going to inevitably shift and flutter away at any given moment.

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Paul Barron

Ephemeral qualities of course apply to Performance Art and it’s strange to think today is my last performance as a student of Northumbria University. After two weeks of the Degree Show being open to the public, it is now time to take it all down, de-install and start a new chapter in our lives. It will be sad to see the studios gradually return to their summer state of emptiness. Seeing installations coming down and the skip filling up. I feel in a sense that people will be dismantling parts of themselves, as the more our practices have evolved and the more work we produced throughout our time here, the more we ourselves have became apparent in our work. People’s characteristics, interests and issues, all became more evident through the artwork, through the statements of intent and through the way in which it was all displayed. Each decision was a reflection of the person, of the way in which they considered their work, in many cases it was a physical extension of themselves.

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Dale Harmer

I think this is what I find most beautiful about art. I have lived and breathed it since childhood, always drawing after school , carrying pencils in my bag and doodling expansive patterns and flowers across my hands (much to my mother’s discontent!) So I can’t imagine life without it and I will never have to. But I think being on this course has been the creative journey that I’d always imagined, it has been the challenge that I needed to push myself into realms previously unexplored. And I think it’s safe to say anyone would say the same; fellow students would probably never have expected certain things of themselves and I think that’s amazing. To realise a new medium or technique or discover a new artist who transforms your way of thinking. When you dedicate three years of your life to making art, you become so immersed in it that personally at least I feel my life will never be the same again.

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Marcus Wheeler

And I could not be more excited by that fact. I have a whole new way of thinking and seeing artwork. I have met so many different people, learnt so much and am eager to learn even more. Although today marks the end of the show, it also marks the start of so many other things. Thank you Northumbria, it’s been a pleasure!

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Woon Prize Nominee Hannah Barker

Sculptural History

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Surrounding myself with so much contemporary art can sometimes be exhausting; there’s so much technology to take into consideration with this genre, so many modes of display and notions of space that you have to consider in the reading of it. For me it’s really refreshing to take a step back from it all and immerse myself in more traditional art forms. These photographs were taken at The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I’ve always found the history of sculpture fascinating, I think mostly because I am in total awe of the skill and craftmanship which would be required in the making of marble sculptures such as these. 

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What I’m intrigued by is how our use of sculpture has evolved over time. Traditionally in places such as Ancient Egypt it was used as a representation of Gods and deities. Sculpture is a fundamental component to certain cultures and religions. Places such as Hindu temples are embellished with religious motifs and decor. The stone, bronze, and iron materials all come to take on the form of a god-like being that cannot be made physical through any other manner. Ancient Greece is renowned for its captivating monolithic sculptures; pieces that were carved out of a single block of stone in depiction of all their Gods. These days sculpture is used very differently, more often than not it is used as a means of forcing us into an awareness of self through our relationship to a sculpture in a certain space.  This way of working has for me become so commonplace, that I have almost lost interest. I want to go back and look at the traditions of sculpture; it’s rich history. 

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My love and interest in history as a subject of course feeds this intention of mine. I studied history all through school and had it on the cards to study at university level. Art of course got the upper hand in my final choice of study, but my love of history remains and I currently do weekly volunteer work as an archive researcher which is something I absolutely love. So for me sculpture is very much imbued with history, neither can be separated from the other; both entirely and intrinsically linked. The history of sculpture is also mostly concerned with the human form, again a predominant interest of mine. Both my human body and historical interests is why I am more drawn to the ‘modern’ sculptural works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as opposed to something like Tracey Emin’s bed piece. Despite Emin’s conceptual reasoning for this piece, to me it is in all honestly entirely mundane. Traditional sculpture on the other hand, such as the work pictured here, is truly mesmerising to me. How long did these take to construct? What kind of tools were used? How many people worked on them? What were they created for? How old are they? All of these questions and possibilities run through my head when I look at traditional pieces such as these and regard them in relation to their historical presence and significance. 

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Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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It’s weird, but sometimes the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is the thing that makes me feel most Scottish! That’s not because there’s a bunch of Scottish memorabilia in it – far from it! Instead there’s an impressive collection of artworks ranging from Francis Bacon, to Andy Warhol, to David Hockney, to one of my favourite artists Samuel John Peploe (part of the Scottish Colourist movement). Having lived abroad most of my life, there are moments where I struggle to find places where I feel truly at home or have a strong connection with. This Gallery has become one of those places of nostalgia. I remember visiting it for the first time when I was seventeen, living back in Scotland for the first time. Sixth Form was what I’ll call my ‘art awakening’; the period in which I realised what kind of art I wanted to be making (Barbara Kruger was a key influence at this point). So the combination of this revelation along with several art trips to this Gallery during that time have made it a very sentimental place for me. 

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This of course is partially due to the sheer beauty of the place. The gallery’s architecture in itself is stunning (I think it’s safe to say I have a crush on Edinburgh architecture!) and the lush greenery surrounding it only enhances the feelings of tranquility. As does the presence of water, which on a beautiful sunny day like last Friday, sparkles and dances in the light. 

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Walking around this landscape is an incredibly serene experience and although it is still relatively central to Edinburgh’s center, the hectic bustle of the city seems distant and far removed. Almost as if you are stood in an art filled bubble of peace. This swirling blend of land and water can’t help being viewed as an impressive Land Art piece, which for me brings to mind the works of Richard Long and Robert Smithson with his iconic ‘Spiral Jetty‘. 

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In the grounds there’s also works by Henry Moore, who in my opinion is the father of all sculpture. His ‘Reclining Figure‘ series, one of which is pictured above, was a huge inspiration to me at the time I discovered it. I was and still of course am, fascinated by the blend of abstraction and figuration; by the way in which he has designed his pieces to allow the eye to travel smoothly along the figure. Barbara Hepworth is another sculpture pioneer who I greatly admire and on my list to one day visit is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! Although I greatly enjoy modern art, I also love stepping away from it and looking to older masters. Particularly given my interest in the human body; there is nothing more exciting than exploring how body art has evolved throughout the decades.

Benedict Drew

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I think it’s say to say that Benedict Drew’s wacky installation was by far my favourite work in The British Art Show 8. Exhibited within the Talbot Rice Gallery, Drew’s work is the definition of transforming a space into something completely new and exciting. What had been quite a clean cut angular-looking gallery space prior to my entry into this room, was soon turned upside down as I entered Drew’s work. I was instantly transported from the traditional gallery layout to what felt like a psychedelic sci-fi space. I was in awe. Sound pulsated heavily across the room; I could feel it in my core and reverberating through my entire body. There were headphones placed on the table which of course I reached out and tried on only to find that they amplified the sound that was already echoing around the room. It was almost like an electro heartbeat and instantly made me feel like I myself was a part of the piece.

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The utilisation of the architecture within the work furthered Drew’s success as I felt the gallery dissolved and blended into the installation to the point I felt fully consumed by the piece. Just like this installation, Drew’s practice spans a wide range of media including sound, performance, video and various other forms. He often creates chaotic and absorbing environments that pulsate with life, drawing in the viewer and providing them with a multi-sensory experience. Although there was a lot to take in when I viewed Drew’s work, surprisingly it was not overwhelming. Installations such as this have that risk factor; bombard your audience and your work is often lost on them. Yet Drew defied this by carefully distributing the pieces, creating a walkway for the viewer to enter and navigate their way effectively through his work. The shapes I was met with and the colours that were used all complemented and blended with each other allowing the human eye to adjust to the bright colour palette that was present. 

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When I got to the back end of the installation I was greeted by large, cinematic screens. Drew’s attention to detail was plain to see with the modern white speakers contrasting to the excess of cables wrapped believe it or not, in tinfoil. Drew took a domestic everyday item and turned it into an art piece that distracted nicely from the ridiculous amount of cables that all his technology requires. It also furthered my reading of the sci-fi elements. It was not just the detail in the cable layout, but also in the stands of the screens. Instead of being a dull conventional black they were a lime green that instantly caught my eye (probably due to the fact I seem to have developed an unexplained love for lime green). 

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According to The British Art Show’s text accompaniment to this piece, Drew was articulating “the horror of the modern world” through this work. Through his multi-media approach he explored this horror thoroughly! It was impossible to ignore the screens that bombarded you as you approached, an obvious reference to our screen culture of today. There was sound that shook through your bones, the way music does in a club. Colours and structures clustered everywhere in excess alluding to our material and consumer culture. There was no escape in this whimsical and all-consuming environment; the pace of it drew you in and refused to let go much in the way that modern day life does. 

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Yet in among all this technological-based motifs I was surprised to view what looked like mud puddles on screen. They were very anthropomorphic and alien given their electric colours, yet I half expected a David Attenborough voice over mixed up DJ style to come on!  It would not have surprised me, as this work was a constant succession of surprises – and puzzles. There was one area of each screen which had a shell attached to it and a spot light which remained the same colour despite the constant shift in imagery. I could not for the life of me figure out how Drew had managed this! 

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There was not a moment of boredom in this space. Despite this being the first piece I saw of The British Art Show, and despite me witnessing several other works that day, this was the one I could not stop thinking about. I couldn’t get this psychedelic experience out of my head. Partially I think because I was both impressed and fascinated by how Drew had used technology and created such an absorbing work. But also partially due to the elaborate colour scheme – I myself almost wanted to start glowing and blend into the work! I think it’s safe to say Benedict Drew succeeded in captivating his audience, whilst also posing some challenging questions concerning modern life today. 

British Art Show 8

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We had an art trip to Edinburgh on Friday to see the British Art Show 8. I felt like a school girl again being on the bus with everyone. Let’s just say I’m not a morning person when lacking my usual caffeine intake! It was lovely to get away from Newcastle to a city as stunning and creative as Edinburgh. I am completely in love with the city and it’s architecture, everywhere you look there is something new to absorb, especially when the sun is shining and dancing across the beautiful buildings. The gallery buildings we were visiting, such as The Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh (pictured above) are visually captivating enough in themselves – and that’s before we’d even seen the work in the show itself! The British Art Show takes place every five years and is an exhibition that tours nationally to show the most current contemporary art in the UK today. It hosts a broad variety of artists all of whom work across various media. The theme of the British Art Show this year was materiality and how we approach it both virtually and physically in contemporary art. 

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Initially I misread the text accompanying the exhibition and took it to mean the theme was materiality alone and was consequently disgusted by the ridiculous excess of screens. Not joking, there were more video works in that show than I’ve probably witnessed in my life! In my outrage at this approach to materiality I felt disillusioned by the entire show, until I came to realise my mistake. However, despite the theme being an exploration of materiality across the real and the virtual, I did find the predominant selection of video works quite difficult to absorb. Drifting from screen to screen to screen did start to feel slightly repetitive and exhausting. This is the problem with an excess of video in a gallery setting. You walk in at the wrong time or half way through and the narrative is entirely lost on you! In some cases this approach to viewing video is a success, in other cases it is far from that. Half the time you have no idea of the duration so you are forced to decide when you leave or if you stay and then of course you have all the social pressures of that situation in a gallery setting. You don’t want to be the first to leave the art work, or you don’t want to hurriedly get up when you’ve only just sat down. It can lead to a multiple of awkward situations. 

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That is why I loved this piece ‘The Common Sense’ by Melanie Gilligan so much. There was no issue of when to stop and start viewing. Given the absence of the conventional dark space for viewing video work, I felt under far less pressure and therefore was more inclined to participate with the piece. Partially because I was fascinated by the technology. I put the headphones on expecting to hear things straight away, but it wasn’t until I was in close proximity to the screens that any sound was audible. As you approached each screen you were greeted by a different segment of the film and it’s audio. Yet as you walked between screens you could hear nothing but silence. It was all done through motion sensor and created a highly intriguing experience. Unless of course you didn’t have headphones, then you just felt lost and disinterested. Being lucky enough to have claimed a pair of headphones, ‘The Common Sense’ seemed like a fascinating dystopian film which I would have loved to have been able to see all the way through!

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Also in The Talbot Rice Gallery was this work by Eileen Simpson and Ben White. In the above image, it doesn’t look like much, apart from being a selection of funky coloured record players. However in reality it was an engaging sound installation that echoed throughout the top floor of the gallery. The records played a compilation of extracts taken from chart hits of 1962 – the final year in which commercial records could be retrieved for public use. It sounded like a hollow and empty kind of disco, like you almost wanted to dance and party but the robotic tone was stopping you from letting loose. 

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Sound installations along with video seemed to be core motifs to the Show. The above image is a gravestone bench by Alex Kane, which was in the room of Laure Prouvost’s haunting sound work. There was a silky woman’s voice reverberating across the room as I sat down, the kind of voice that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. At first I thought the bench was part of Prouvost’s work, until I read the accompanying text. Although the sound installation was a generic address to the viewer, it felt like the woman’s voice was pinpointing and talking to directly to me. Incredibly haunting and eerie enough that I left that room with my skin crawling. Although The British Art Show was less sculpture filled than I’d expected, it was rich in experience. I left each room with new thoughts and feelings racing through my head, different things making me uncomfortable or mesmerising me into staying. Sometimes I feel contemporary art should have the simple title of ‘experience art’, as that was definitely what I felt the British Art Show was; an experience. 

If Only…

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I was looking through some old photos on my laptop and came across some snaps I’d taken years back at the exhibition ‘From Death to Death and Other Small Tales: Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D. Daskalopoulos Collection’. I could kick my younger self! If only I could go back and relive this exhibition knowing what I know now! I must have been about…seventeen when I saw this? I think. So only really starting to realise the direction my art would take. This exhibition, although I did not realise it at the some, had some really big names to it. Artists such as Paul McCarthy, Mona Hatoum, Helen Chadwick, Ernesto Neto were all part of it. I have researched and studied them all since being at uni and therefore have an entirely new found appreciation for their work. 

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It gets worse though. Other artist work included belonged to Marina Abramovic – one of THE innovators of performance art. One of the most prominent females in what had previously been a largely male dominated art form. One of my current main influences! Marcel Duchamp as well, one of the pioneers of the Dada movement which not only fueled Surrealism but was the platform for conceptual art. Joseph Beuys, again very revolutionary and brought about a whole new dimension and meaning to the word sculpture. 

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Knowing what I know now, I could not be more frustrated by the naivety of my younger self. I was looking at revolutionary artwork by revolutionary artists and I didn’t even know it! So frustrating…The absolute worst past is that the entire exhibition is centered on the human body which is of course the subject of all my work these days. If only I could see the entire exhibition again!

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I think one of the works I would be most excited to see again is the work of Ernesto Neto (above). I still remember my reaction when I walked into the room. It was not the site that struck me initially; it was the smell. He had filled his installation with a variety of spices to the point that is was almost overwhelming. Yet it was also incredibly exciting as for the first time I was experiencing multi-sensory artwork! It actually inspired me to use spices in my own work. Slight mistake given that at A Level you have to paint your final piece in two days straight. Not good when you’re using spices – I don’t think curry powder has ever given me such a headache!