Sadly I have not been near this blog in a while – it’s been far too long and I have really missed it. It’s funny, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is something I was always skeptical of, but then I have moments like this. I miss writing and reflecting on things as for me that is my quiet time; that is the time where I allow my creativity to solidify into something I can understand and convey to both myself and others through text. However, preparations and the heavy workload that comes with putting on not only a Degree Show, but also publishing the catalogue that goes alongside it have taken over for the time being. So I’ve started thinking back and reminiscing about holiday time. Over Easter I had a lovely trip with my boyfriend and his family which involved Hadrians Wall, Alnwick Gardens and the little museum town of Beamish. A perfect little getaway with some really interesting and beautiful sights!
In the town of Beamish, not only was I delighted by the running trams and bustling little places such as the bakery which transported you back in time, but I was particularly taken by the colourful stained glass. Now, I think one of the reasons I love stained glass so much is because it is an art form I know very little about – the techniques and timing aspects of the process are something I have never touched on myself. This is coming from someone who has tried everything from analogue photography, to performance art, to video art, to batik ink, to oils, acrylics, watercolours, you name it! I have tested out a lot of different mediums but I am always particularly fascinated by the ones I’ve never tried. Such as marble and bronze sculpting (not that I think I have the arm strength for such techniques). I think one of the reasons glass appeals so much to me though is because there is an element of danger; that risk when manipulating molten hot glass.
When I was younger, I used to do ballet lessons (I hated every single one of them – tutus are not for me!) But what I did like about my lessons was they were next to the glass blowers workshop, so my mum would use that as bait to lure me to ballet class. I still remember being mesmerised by the molten glass as I nibbled on a rice cake. As a youngster I could hardly believe that a solid could become a liquid in such a beautiful but dangerous way. So when I saw these windows inside the little cottages of Beamish, I was instantly drawn in. The way light falls through and illuminates what is essentially a drawing is utterly beautiful. The contrasts between the colours and their vibrancy cast colourful shadows across the room.
For me it’s inevitable that I always think of Rennie Mackintosh in relation to stained glass; the bold blocks of colour, the simplicity yet elegance of design. There’s also a kind of melancholy to the pictures, as if the depictions are a lost world trapped inside a solid frame. Working with glass is something I have always wanted to try, but I feel it’s the kind of thing you need a workshop for – and especially with my clumsiness levels a lot of protective gear too! Pottery is also something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently and I’m realising that having worked in contemporary art for almost three years now, I’m ready to take a break and maybe study or take up a new and more traditional art form.
‘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.
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.
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.
I have this absolute nightmare of my tights ALWAYS getting holes in them. It drives me nuts; my toes peep out, the ladders run up the back of my leg, I don’t think I own a single perfect pair of tights! So being an artsy creative person I of course think of new ways to use them when they’re on their way out, otherwise there are far too many tights going to waste! When I did these shots, I’d recently been using cling film to cover and wrap my body in. So these photographs were kind of an extension of that experiment. Of course, wrapping your body in cling film holds very different connotations from interacting with fragile tights.
I was quite pleased with how these photographs turned out. They are completely unedited, I just used a desk lamp directed at a very certain angle to get these colour shades. Normally putting something over your head is claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but given the transparency and delicacy of the tights there were no problems at all. It was more exciting trying to develop a relationship with the material and mould it into interesting shapes that worked both within the frame of the photograph and in relation to my body. I had a tripod set up to take these, so it was all very trial and error; I only got three good photographs out of all the ones I took. That happens most of the time with photography though and the shapes I did manage to create here complemented the warm hues of the lighting.
Despite the lack of editing, the colours came out really well; they shift between pale pastel yellows and orange-tinted pinks. I was also really happy with the blend of focuses; the fixed outline of certain areas such as the head in the photo above, against softer and more ambiguous outlines as in the case of my fingers in the above. Out of all components of my torso, I think my hands looked the most interesting encased in the tights, as the fingers are usually so mobile and free to use that is was strange to see them restricted. Yet the conflict present within the restriction is interesting as the hands are encased by the most fragile material and have the ability to break free at any moment. This potential is most evident in the middle picture where my fingers are most pronounced. I also think this potential is evident in the blend of static and movement. Although I am holding still and posing for the camera, there is so much movement in the light and the material which provides an interesting contrast to the overall result. I think these aspects are why these photographs are successful to me; I’ve taken a simple everyday material and tried to adapt it into something entirely new.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes it’s really refreshing to step away from all the thinking and the books and just work with a material. I had these foam polystyrene pieces (the kind you put in packing boxes) that I decided to paper-mache into limb-like forms. I didn’t really have a plan or know what I was doing, I just wanted to get my hands dirty. I had to wrap them up in cling film first to create a more solid framework for the paper-mache to sit on and this was a very fiddly and frustrating process.
Despite this, it was great to be back in a boiler suit and sat in my studio making mess. So much of my work this year has been film, photography or performance documentation; essentially all digitally based, so it was a relief to make some physical objects and hold these items in my hands. I’ve enjoyed working in this way this year as Performance Art has been the direction my work has naturally taken. I never planned to go down the route of performance, but my will to push personal boundaries and explore the human body in ways I haven’t before has resulted in me drifting into the realm of performance.
These limb-like objects eventually ended up being used in a performance piece. Initially this was not the plan, I had no idea where or what these would become. These days I always tend to have a rough notion of where an idea is going to go or how it will work out. It’s never perfect of course but having a rough outline gives me something to work towards. So in this case it was strange just making with no outcome in mind, yet it was also quite liberating.
This liberation eventually turned into frustration however. These objects were so time consuming to make, especially with the drying time factored in, that I eventually lost interest. I think this was mostly due to the fact I had no direction and no idea to follow, so the objects became dormant. They ended up sat clustered in my studio for ages and eventually I started to develop a kind of resentful relationship towards them. Recently I had the impulse to use them as I couldn’t handle the idea of all those hours of labour going to waste. So I decided to incooperate them into a drawing-based performance. I was really glad it worked out this way, as it was interesting to go through such a journey with these objects. At first I was excited to create them, then the making process evolved from being therapeutic to a chore and finally I got fed up and found them to be useless. This period of uselessness lasted for ages, so it was incredibly satisfying to draw them back into another piece and find them to finally be useful and exciting again.
It’s fascinating looking back at old work and seeing how my style has evolved and changed over time. What intrigues me most is not simply my evolution in technique, but my interest and use of material. I have experimented a lot over the years and have come to find that you can never fail with fine liner pen! You could argue it’s a very simple material; everyone owns a black pen, yet I have come to find it is also the most effective in a lot of cases. For me the addition of fine liner is often the perfect finishing touch to a painting. My love for pen has remained constant over the years, yet my feelings for other materials have changed drastically. When I was younger I found watercolours difficult to use and frustrating to control, yet these days most of my paintings are water and ink based; I can’t seem to get enough of the fluidity!
I went through a phase where acrylic paint was my favourite medium (this was before I discovered oil paint!) mainly due to the layering it allowed. When I paint I build my work up slowly by gradually applying multiple layers, as you can see in these colourful eye studies. Acrylic was perfect for working in this way as it meant a short drying time which was perfect for my instantaneous manner of working. It’s also a very affordable material, especially when compared to oil paint which is depressingly expensive most of the time. I came across these old painterly experiments when I was looking through things I’d submitted as part of my university and scholarship portfolios. They’re about four or five years old now and I haven’t used acrylic paint much since then. Having looked back over them, I’m tempted to give acrylic paint another go given how much my skills have changed over time.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.