The Late Shows

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Last night I was helping out at Vane Gallery with their display for the Late Shows. The Late Shows are a city wide series of exhibitions and cultural events which range from open studios to performances. This is the tenth year it has run with over 70 venues participating. Vane Gallery were previewing two new exhibitions and were also hosting a 1960s style photo shoot for people to play dress up. This looked like great fun and the polaroid photos of everyone came out really well. The vintage clothing was selected by Sara Makari-Aghdam, the curator of Vane’s current ‘Vinyl Icons…’ exhibition, and let’s just say she has great taste! In among helping out behind the bar, I was allowed to pop up to see what was happening on the other floors of Union House.

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B&D Studios had a silent disco playing, something which was incredibly surreal as I have never experienced it before. It was strange seeing people dance to no music. Then you put the headphones on yourself and close off the rest of the world as you enter your own little bubble of sound. The music was mellow and upbeat and really added to the fairy light lit atmosphere. There were also these amazing graphic drawings on display by the talented artist Luke Dixon. I love the colours and the geometric components of the animal’s faces and they were suitably eclectic artwork for the atmosphere of B&D.  

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It was really interesting to travel throughout all the floors of the building as there was everything from fashion to printmaking on display. I knew it was a creative hub of a building, but I hadn’t realised quite to this extent! There was also a floor where people had made imaginative creatures in art therapy classes and the option to take classes in pattern making.

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The night was so filled with artistic contrasts and I think this was what I was most intrigued by; you didn’t know what was going to happen from room to room. When you visit an art gallery, or know there is an artist exhibiting, you kind of expect there to be a sense of continuity within the space. With The Late Shows it was just full of surprises and seeing traditional crafting techniques followed by colourful projections, followed by taxidermy really did highlight the range of what forms art could take.

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There was a very scientific-based floor with a UV cloud installation. I have a bit of a thing for these kind of works, UV just excites me! I think it’s partially my childhood fondness of having glow in the dark stars on my ceiling. Having seen Benedict Drew exhibit at The Talbot Rice Gallery was another instance I got quite excited by UV as he effectively employed it to transform and manipulate structural components of the gallery. 

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What’s great about The Late Shows is that it encourages people that aren’t necessarily that interested in art to participate and visit gallery spaces that they may not otherwise. It’s a chance for anyone to engage and although I didn’t see everything given I was helping with Vane, I saw enough to realise what a great sense of community art can create.

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

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

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

 

Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia Part II

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

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

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

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more blog posts about this exhibition see:

Part II

Part III

Critical Writing for Vane Gallery

Recently I have been trying really hard to work on and expand my writing skills; as much as I love blogging and using colloquial language, I also enjoy writing in more formal and critical terms. Recently therefore I submitted two pieces of critical writing Vane Gallery and I am delighted to have found that they have both been published. Feel free to have a read on the links below:

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‘The Beauty in Grotesque’, a critical review of Jock Mooney’s exhibition ‘Who Are You and What Do You Want?’ at Vane Gallery. Click here to read. 

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‘Layers of Meaning’, a critical review of Oliver Braid’s exhibition ‘The Nude Ignity’ at Vane Gallery. Click here to read.

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.