Francesca Woodman Part 2

Continued from yesterday’s post (see first part of text here: https://themindofmilla.com/2016/03/23/francesca-woodman-part-1/)

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Francesca Woodman, Untitled, MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1980 © George and Betty Woodman NB: No toning, cropping, enlarging, or overprinting with text allowed.

Although sexuality is inherent to Woodman’s work, it is not the primary objective given her predominantly raw treatment of it. There is a sensitivity to the way she portrays the female nude which distils the sexual components that are inevitably present. In some instances however she is more willing to be sexually explicit, as in the case of ‘Untitled’ (1980, pictured above). Through the framing of the shot and the absence of the lower half there is the suggestion of sexual occurrences. Her facial expression seems to emphasise this possibility. She also uses a fur-based prop which accentuates the smoothness of her skin and feminine elements such as the erect nipple. Contrast to this highly visible sexual component, there are more subtle depictions of the female form as demonstrated by ‘Untitled’ (1979-80, pictured below). In this instance the mirror reflection becomes the subject of the photograph and the body more of an aside. Mirrors are a common prop employed by Woodman, which highlight the theme of representation and self. Given all the connotations that a mirror holds, the presence of this object within her work furthers the exploration of bodily image and form.

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Props were often employed by Woodman in constructing her photographs. Mirrors, doors, shells, tables, fabric and food are just a few of the objects that she utilised. These are all objects originating from the domestic realm, which demonstrates Woodman’s interest in gender. It is amazing to think that all Woodman required in constructing her images was a room, a tripod, some objects and herself. Such simple tools yet the results are so complex. Despite the minimalist assortment of items depicted, she pushed photography to its limits through the experimental use of slow shutter speed and interesting photographic stand points. Woodman’s work is sensitive yet interrogative in its dynamic exploration of the female figure. Although the tragedy surrounding her death will always be in the background to her work, that is where it will firmly remain given her compelling, iconic and beautiful oeuvre.

Flora Whiteley ‘Present Continuous’

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Talking more about getting back into painting is actually relevant to another exhibition I saw recently at Vane; Flora Whiteley’s ‘Present Continuous’. Given her cinematic background, her works have elements of film and stage-like set ups, which bring a new dimension to what are otherwise very painterly works. At present I’m not too interested in researching the background to her paintings and all of the concepts she was exploring; I’m simply wanting to look at and appreciate the paintings themselves. Particularly in terms of her use of colour. The above work is the perfect example. Through her pastel hues and soft palette, the cold of winter she’s depicting in the picture comes through to real life. You can almost feel the cold creeping into the gallery space. 

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It’s the same with this piece (see above) as well. The smoke from the girl’s cigarette has that wispy aesthetic of real life smoke. Although it’s a static image, you can see the cusp of energy it carries, as if the smoke could blow out of the painting and into your face as you view it. I think the lack of hard edges enhances this sense of movement. There’s a softness to the painting and a delicacy to the technique. What looks like fairly heavily applied paint is in fact an abundance of layers built up over time. The technique of the painting application varies between dry-brush and more of a solid application of colour. The contrast between the two creates a nice sense of balance within the painting. In some instances we are able to see the linen on which the paint is applied, in others we are presented with purely a build up of tonal work. 

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There’s a real sensitivity in her depictions of the figures as well. Their stances are not too posed, they simply hold themselves. The muted colours of their clothing allow them to almost blend into the background, not occupying too much attention within the piece. The tilted angles of the head, the slight bending of elbows, every element is thought out and all contribute to create a linear direction for the eye to travel round. 

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The scale Whiteley has chosen to utilise complements her figures as well. They are not quite life-size but they have that element of suggestion. You can relate your bodily proportions to the piece. They also allude more to Whiteley’s cinematic background – not quite on the scale of being a cinema screen, yet they are not far from it and have the potential to be one. There were also far smaller portrait paintings, yet I preferred the larger ones as they really allowed me to closely study her technique. 

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I don’t always take photographic close ups of work, as I prefer to have the entire body of the piece to contemplate as I reflect on it. However in this instance I was far more fascinated by close up studies of it all. The way Whiteley had broken up the pieces through angular lines and blocked colours. The shapes she formed through her placement of the figures. The depth created through the variation in colour. There was so much to see and absorb, that standing far back felt like I was missing out!

Jock Mooney Part 2

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Normally I’m quite wary about using or associating art with the word ‘kitsch’. All it encompasses are elements that do not cater to my usual taste. Kitsch to me normally creates associations of tackiness and poor taste – which to excess form the definition of it. Yet that was the word that sprang to mind when I walked in and saw these pieces. For once in my life I don’t mind using the word, as I think it totally works in this instance. Even better, I’m getting the ironic vibes here which means I’m even more comfortable in applying the term to Mooney’s work. I don’t feel he’s done it without the intention of being sarcastic. 

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So Mooney has succeeded in being the first artist to ever have me accept ‘kitsch’ as a good thing. Kudos. Not only that, he’s also managed to incorporate bizarre and seemingly random motifs into his work which I can’t stop looking at. Of course they’re not random at all. He’s got Janus cats for one. The name Janus coming from the Roman god who is normally depicted looking forward into the future and back into the past with his two different faces. This symbolises Mooney’s contemplation of life in this exhibition. Then there are all these cake-like sculptures, which reference certain religious festivals and religions through grotesque formations that in some instances take the form of the severed head of Marie Antoinette. Culture, history, religion are all just some of the components Mooney explores here. It’s all slightly unnerving and creepy, yet the vibrant colours reign it back into the realm of playfulness. 

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What I didn’t find too playful was this floor-based work. I think this ginger bread picnic mat for me was slightly mad. You’ve got severed fingers scattered across it, along with laughing faces who you can almost hear jeering at you. Not sure I fancy eating a cucumber sandwich sat with all that watching me. But it worked very well within the exhibition context, especially given the play on space. It’s really interesting that modern day sculpture is abandoning the plinth in favour of the floor, as it forces the viewer into a direct relationship with the work. Especially with a piece like this, is it a picnic mat or is it a sculpture? Where does art begin and art end? It’s all about the blurring of boundaries and comes back to that idea of exhibitions that are designed to challenge conventional perceptions of artwork.

Jock Mooney Part 1

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Vane Gallery recently had Jock Mooney’s ‘Who Are You and What Do You Want?‘ exhibited. Mooney is represented by Vane so I’m quite familiar with his work through that. This exhibition however was quite unlike his usual stuff as it was far more personal and autobiographical. It is an exploration of Mooney’s joys and fears surrounding life; his hopes for the future and all the whimsical elements of life. I’m not saying this exhibition was totally unfamiliar given his choice of theme as his iconic gruesome figures and lavish colours were of course still present – it wouldn’t be true Mooney without those components! 

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The pieces that caught my attention most were his incredibly intricate drawings. Not only was the detail and patience they must have required unparalleled, but the variation in tone was endless. Mooney really had pushed monochromatic drawing to the extreme. Along with the slightly grotesque swirling knots and fluid shapes, Mooney had also brought in a bit of cheeky humour. Eye-adorned bottoms were a motif in a lot of his drawings and this balanced out what would otherwise have been quite gruesome and curdling depictions. 

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The one above is my favourite as it is a blend of both an action and a reaction. On the one hand you have what looks like a woman’s dress blowing up, the action, and then within that you have the popping eyes in reaction to this occurrence. Very clever. The eyes have that excessive, over-the-top, Tom & Jerry style look to them as well which heightens this sense of amusement. As does Mooney’s playful titles: ‘Avocado Pear-shaped Palm’, ‘Speculative Teetering’, ‘The Curse of the UHT Guacomole Snowman’, ‘The Dysfunctional Rapture of Brassica Bumface’ the list is endless and just so much fun. I think we really get a taste of Mooney himself through the language he applied to his work which is why I personally find the titling of a work crucial. It is the cherry on the cupcake if you like. And although these drawings are fantastic and fun even if they were titled something entirely mundane like I don’t know…’Cereal Bowl’ (yes, I’ve just had cereal), the title does succeed in adding that extra bit of mischief.

Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture

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 I have viewed this piece at The Baltic a few times now. I did not run to write a blog about it, as I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought. I needed more time to process what I’d seen and I also felt like I had to see it again before I could formulate my thoughts into anything worthwhile. That is not a negative thing. The fact that this work forced me to really think and contemplate my experience of it shows its staying power and effectiveness. The work is co-authored by Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture. It’s an endevour to blend an artistic practice with architecture. Given that Theobald works in performance, sound and installation, it’s quite an ambitious choice of blend. Hence my excessive contemplation over it all. 

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It was interesting because when I arrived on Level 2 the above scene is what I was greeted by. There’s an instant blockade which suggests a lack of access. A lot of visitors did in fact question whether or not they were allowed to enter the structure. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an art student and have seen things like this before, or if it was just an assumption on my behalf, but I entered without hesitating. I knew it was designed to make the viewer question so I was instantly quite taken by it! That was before I even entered the structure which is made up of everyday objects such as duvets. The comfort of that item in a space as awkward and industrial as this was quite a contrast. It brought the idea of comfort zone and bedroom space into a gallery setting which was an unusual experience. Yet it demonstrates the success of the piece given its play on the conventional associations of architecture. 

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There was writing scrawled across these interior duvet forms; it was difficult to make out so it took a lot of time to read. I found myself reading out loud in an attempt to process it better. This play on interior and exterior was brilliantly constructed. As the piece had all sorts of components including sound, video, performance through the installation, it could have been a very overwhelming experience. However, given how they had broken up the space by placing spherical structures at various intervals, it created an easing of the senses. There was singing playing throughout the gallery and the spoken word as well, yet when I entered the ‘duvet columns’ as I will call them, the exterior sound reduced slightly, allowing me to better concentrate on the text. 

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These ‘duvet columns’ were dauntingly high, so much so that they reached the ceiling. As well as emphasisng the expansive nature of the piece, it also really highlighted the relationship between the work and the architecture of the gallery. It was entirely work-in-situ. This was highly effective as it is not often you contemplate the ceiling of a gallery space, yet Theobold and Atomik make it a key element. The height also furthers the emphasis on the difference between interior and exterior. As does the fact I was being videoed as I circulated the work. There was a live stream documenting people walk through the work. This meant at certain points there were projections of my face at certain points up on the outer walls of the structures! This was on the one hand quite funny and amusing, but on the other quite uncomfortable. It was a relief to get out of the view of the cameras once I was back inside the columns! This created two different emotions for me in response to the entire space. Outside and looking up at the columns made me feel small and exposed; being inside the columns surrounded by duvets and away from the cameras made me feel comfortable and safe. Two entirely different experiences, both within the same space. 

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I’m so glad I went more than once before I wrote about it, as my experiences both times were entirely different. The first time I went there was music in the background and performers on the stage, the second time I went there were no performers with only a woman speaking as the audio. Two entirely different situations, but again within the same space. This led me to question how the piece is set up, do the performers come on at a fixed time everyday? Do they perform daily? Do they improvise? Why is there music when they are on stage in stead of the spoken word, is it to make it more theatrical? All very interesting questions that contribute towards the complexity of the piece. It’s not what people would call ‘pretty art’. Personally however, I far prefer art that challenges me and really forces me to question it. Theobald and Atomik are certainly successful in that respect. 

Jim Lambie at GoMA

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‘Forever Changes’, Jim Lambie

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As well as visiting Kelvingrove at the weekend, we also visited the Gallery of Modern Art – or as it’s known in art slang – GoMA. There was an interesting collection of work on display, some that appealed to me, some that did not. The mix included well known art world names such as Karla Black, David Shrigley, Claire Barclay and of course Jim Lambie to name but a few. Yet a name is not everything as I felt some pieces really did not belong or were misplaced within this gallery setting. Particularly when set against the backdrop of another work. Frankly, anything alongside this exciting piece by Lambie took a backseat for me! I have a real thing for colour at the moment. I don’t know if it’s all the Colour Talks I’ve been attending in uni which are led by my friend and course mate, or if it’s just that I haven’t properly painted in so long I’m starting to yearn for physical colour again. Probably a mix of the two.

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Either way, the colour and apparent clumsiness of this piece instantly appealed to me. What appears as a cluttered and chaotic arrangement of useless half-chairs, is in fact a highly considered and contemplated arrangement. As Eva Hesse would say, “it’s chaos structured as non-chaos”. It’s almost like something Alice would find in Wonderland. There is no sense of guidance for the eye to travel over, it is merely left to its own devices in registering and comprehending the work.

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I thought the mirrored handbags were a fantastic addition to what was already a very exciting work. I have not researched the work, but I wonder if they are a commentary on our commercial and self-absorbed society. After all, women (and men) spend hundreds on an item used simply to carry other items. Then there is the addition of mosaic mirrors which allow us as viewers to view our own reflections. I am simply contemplating here but this was my interpretation of the piece. I may be entirely wrong and be taking far too obvious a reading from it. Either way however, Lambie is an artist I will definitely be looking into more following this absorbing experience!

Yvonne Hindle ‘Supertranslations’

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Yvonne Hindle’s ‘Supertranslations’ is an exhibition at Gallery North which sadly ends today. It is truly beautiful and she is clearly a master of paint.  There is so much going on in her paintings, they’re like her own individually created universe. When you look at them you feel as if you are falling and being absorbed by a city of colours. They have so much energy that the paintings seem to pulsate and burst from the wall. What catches your attention first and foremost as you enter are of course the colours; they are truly stunning. What I love is the bold mix, there’s everything from soft yellows and pinks, tame blues, to black-like purples. The contrasts are therefore strong and this is enhanced by how Hindle has segmented them. What looks like a swirling mass of coloured chaos is in fact an orderly and structured arrangement, almost like the stratas of a layer of rocks.

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This is where her interest in the micro comes in. From afar the paintings look like happy accidents; close up they look highly intuitive – no layer or colour has been added without purpose. There is a precision to it all, clear divides between segments and carefully considered colour dilution. Texture also plays a part in it all. Most pieces are relatively smooth, allowing the swirling colours to take centre stage. Others are far more textured and temptingly tactile. Personally, I prefer the smoother ones as that way I can concentrate solely on the colour. I’m not saying however the textured ones aren’t interesting, if anything they make me want to get my modelling paste out and work in a truly impasto style! Which I may do anyway having seen all of this work. The marbled effect of the paint allows me to see it’s movement; how it’s seeped and ebbed together. You feel as the process has the potential to still be going; as if at any minute the colours are going to start moving into each other again.

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What I also like about all the paintings are the edges of them all. The paint starts to tailor off in lot of cases and that is where the layering technique starts to be revealed. The pieces hint at how the colour has been built but at the same time gives nothing away. I also really like the lack of hard edge, I think this works really well in relation to the contents of the paintings. It adds to that sense of chaos ordered as non-chaos. Scale wise it’s perfect too, not too big and overwhelming but not too small to prevent you from viewing the detail. They really are such energetic and lively pieces, if I had a wall of them in my house I’d never be uninspired ever again!

Hajra Waheed

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So I had a wee trip down to The Baltic this afternoon thinking there wouldn’t be anything new on given how often I go. But I fancied a walk and some fresh air before the gym so decided to go anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Hajra Waheed’s exhibition. Waheed’s work explores the increasing militarization of the sky and how satellite surveillance is becoming more commonplace in our everyday. She works in mixed media ranging from collage to video installation. Her works include archive fragments and field notes which bring an interesting dimension to the artwork as it feels so much more intense with those elements in it. To me that is, maybe to science orientated people it’s more of a natural dialect. 

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I am often fascinated when an artistic practice blends itself with science as that is a theme that differs so greatly from my own. Science and technology are fascinating to me, mostly I think because I have no knowledge about them. To me they are merely the great unknown! Yet strangely in this case I have no urge to make this unknown known, it’s almost as if I prefer it all being a mystery so that I can continue to appreciate it from the outside. Or maybe my brain is already too full with arty stuff, which is probably more accurate if I’m being completely honest!

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What really struck me about this exhibition was the layout; you could tell how much thought had been put into this aspect. There were divides within the space so that some work was hidden when you first entered, there was a separate room and then a little alcove in the wall. There were waist high plinths and then plinths that were just above ground level – the exhibition really forced your eye to travel and it was fantastic! It felt almost like a journey through the artwork. There was also sound playing across the entirety of the room which I think was the sound of materials scraping against the floor as they were being moved. I may be wrong as it was kind of obscure and difficult to pinpoint but given the satellite material laid out on the low-lying plinth, it did suggest the sounds were depicting the movement of these items. If not then I am intrigued by what the sound was capturing; in a way it is this ambiguity that makes it all the more interesting. 

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My photographs sadly, do not justify the exhibition. Because I didn’t think there was a new one on, I just chucked my basic little camera into my bag last minute. Speaking to a member of the Baltic crew, he said Waheed is very particular about how her exhibitions are documented given the thought and time she puts into layout. So she would probably hate me right now with these awful snapshots of her work. They do give you an idea however of the space. The artwork itself did not trigger much response from me I think because I was too fascinated by the arrangement of it all. I particularly liked how she’d arranged all her framed works, it had a satisfying regimental quality to it (photo above). 

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I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an exhibition where the lighting has made such an impression on me. It was both dramatic and subtle at the same time. There was kind of a blue hue throughout the entire space which created a real sense of calm despite the quite intense subject matter. Waheed grew up on the gated Aramco compound of Saudi Arabia where I myself spent some time when I was growing up. It was interesting looking at her work once I found this out as there are some controversial explorations carried out which I think are heightened by the fact she had lived in Saudi and is not simply an artist observing from the outset. Controversial and highly political and not something I am really wanting to get into given my experiences.

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On the whole I think this was a very successful exhibition. The artwork itself was not exactly to my taste and doesn’t make me want to run off and research her. However the thought and skilled arrangement of it all does. You can tell this is an artist who thinks about the bigger picture when making artwork and I think that’s really important to being successful in today’s art world. 

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!

INTERFUSE

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A week ago today I attended INTERFUSE, an exhibition held by fellow students in the Gallery North Project Space. Art students host exhibitions all the time, but what was special about this one was the fact that it blended the work of both Northumbria and Newcastle University students together. To my knowledge this has never been done before, which is a shame as it seems like such a waste of two such creative communities that are right on each other’s door step. At the same time however it made INTERFUSE all the more exciting.

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As if the concept of a collaboration wasn’t exciting enough, the content of the exhibition was even more so! It was really dynamic, a blend of all sorts of mediums ranging from audio, installation, performance, video, painting – you name it, it was all there. It was a really strong combination of works, probably one of the strongest and most interesting blends I have seen in a very long time. 

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One of the key elements that made INTERFUSE so effective was audience participation. You had pieces like the one above which people were welcome to crawl into (and trust me we did, we had quite a party in there!) Then you had ones like the one below which was so temptingly tactile you had to remind yourself touching artwork is not acceptable!

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Sadly I did not see the performance piece, it drew such a big crowd that I literally could not leave the little room with the tent installation (not that I’m complaining, any extra time I get to spend in the company of fairylights is absolutely fine by me!)

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When I say this exhibition had everything, I am not lying. The above was definitely the funkiest piece, it was like walking into a mini disco! Music was blaring, lights were flashing, colours were going crazy. I’m not usually one for conventional club music but in this instance I was entirely fine with it! Maybe if we set up some hip arty club consisting of installations like this I wouldn’t feel the need to drown my sorrows over the terrible music that gets played in most places!

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In contrast to the energetic club-like room, you had pieces like this. The moment you put headphones on you are choosing to shut out the world and immerse yourself entirely in the piece. And I really like that element; in a way it almost gives the work total control over you which I think is very interesting. Sound is definitely something I want to look into working with, especially given the fact my video works really aren’t functioning for me, yet the audio in them all somehow still appeals. 

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Another thing that I thought made INTERFUSE such a strong exhibition were the details; it was just the simplest things such as tape outlines on the floor, but it just brought everything together and really demonstrated the thought and time that had gone into all this.

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It was probably one of my favourite exhibitions so far this year. It is the first of four and let me tell you, I will definitely be going to the next one. I have no idea what to expect next time, as I really don’t know how they are going to top this one. We’ll just have to wait and see!