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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Contemporary art is often controversial in it’s reception. Some people love it, some people hate it. Some people think their children could have done it. Other’s say their child didn’t do it and the artist beat them to it! This artwork is the perfect example of that retort. Wurtz’s practice revolves around taking a simple everyday object and turning it into something beautiful. In this case, he used food trays and painted the shapes on the bottom of them in different colours of acrylic. First off, I had never even noticed there were so many shapes to the bases of these trays. Second off, this is genius!
It is such an incredibly simple thing but surprisingly elegant too. Who would have thought food trays could look this good?! And together in this form of display they look absolutely brilliant! Walking into the room I half gasped in amazement. Initially I couldn’t figure out what the objects were, but on closer inspection I was stunned to realise it was merely food trays!
The way they are all arranged is reminiscent of the way portraits are hung in an old historical castle. They have that sophisticated clustered vibe going on. The colours themselves are very rich and bold, almost like jewels. What Wurtz has succeeded in doing is elevating the most simple commonplace object into an art object. Marcel Duchamp’s urinal here we go again!
I think what’s so lovely about this is though is the air of playfulness! It’s not trying to be anything fancy or anything that it’s not. It is purely an adaption of a simple material that is undergoing a transformation into something more beautiful. It’s almost like Wurst is the fairy godmother to house hold materials! He does it with other bits and pieces such as plastic bags and shoe laces but the one that really caught my eye was what I call his photographic tree:
They are little photographic strips hung delicately in this form. Again, so basic but so clever. The best part about all this is it really shows that you don’t need lots of money to make art. Anyone can do it, it’s just about using your imagination and experimenting to see what happens!
So this was also at Baltic when I visited. I saw it last time I was there but never got round to writing about it. I think this is because I had so many people say to me “have you seen that Bill Murray exhibition at Baltic?” and so by the time I eventually did get round to seeing it, I was already slightly sick of it! Even after all they’d said, this was not what I expected! I don’t really know what I was expecting…cardboard cut outs of him maybe? Or some all singing all dancing video installation? Satellite-like installations and little dolls houses were therefore quite a surprise!
As was the childlike aesthetic which was particularly evident in the painted house piece. The whole exhibition had this childhood nostalgia to it, I think because dolls houses were present. They were lit from the inside and invited you in. They felt very homey in a way but simultaneously distant, as if they were pushing and pulling you into and away from them. Teasing you. Become a part of it or leave it alone? It was quite exciting peeping in not knowing what you’d see. In most cases it was shells from the ocean which I really liked, as they contrasted nicely with the wooden construction of the pieces.
As well as childhood nostalgia, I also felt there was a certain melancholy to it all. I don’t know if that’s because the space felt so big and silent for these sculptures. Although they are fairly sizable in themselves, they are the smallest structures I’ve ever seen on this floor of the Baltic. The silence just seemed so loud because of this, it was almost eerie. Haunting. Like you weren’t meant to be there but of course that’s a contradiction given it’s a gallery where the sole purpose is to view art.
Most pieces were quite precariously balanced which I think also added to the child-like element. It kind of made me want to get some bits and pieces of my own and start adding to the work! Or bring in some of my own houses to fill out the space and create more liveliness! Bring in one of my old dolls houses. Oooh wow, imagine an exhibition where everyone contributed their old dolls house! In a way it would be kind of creepy. Or maybe that’s just me, sometimes stuff like this freaks me out!
I wonder what it’s like to be Bill Murray and have an exhibition focused on you…Must be truly bizarre – that is, if he even knows about it!
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.