Visual Diary: ECA Degree Show

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MARK WALLINGER MARK

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Last night I attended Fruitmarket Gallery’s preview of MARK WALLINGER MARK. It is an unconventional exhibition in the sense that it is split between Fruitmarket here in Edinburgh and Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee. I am not particularly familiar with Wallinger’s work, until last night I was only aware of the basic facts. He is an artist who has been creating work since the 1980s and in 2007 he won The Turner Prize with his State Britain installation, a recreation of peace campaigner Brian Holmes’ Parliament Square Protest. This was Mark Wallinger’s second Turner Prize nomination, the first of which occurred in 1995 in response to his A Real Work of Art. History, personal and national identity are some of the themes that run throughout his work. As I was not very familiar with his practice, I found the Artist Talk last night incredibly helpful in my understanding of his artistic oeuvre. I think attending artist talks is one of my favourite things to do, as although you can read and learn plenty about an artist online or from books and journals, nothing quite compares to hearing them discuss their work in person. It is an incredibly intimate moment I believe, for an artist to reveal and describe their process in front of a crowd and so I attend as many artist talks as I can. They are the best way to learn about interpreting both the artist and an artwork.

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Last night’s discussion between the artist and Fruitmarket Director, Fiona Bradley, was no exception. With a nice introductory discussion of his State Britain work, the talk then led into more recent pieces which included a performance work Wallinger completed in Berlin, as well as his beautiful id Paintings. These were by far the most stunning works in the exhibition for me, mainly because it felt as if I was observing the gestures of a private moment in the studio. It was also a refreshing moment for me to view them in all their tactility and impressively large scale, as seeing them on the website had created a digital interpretation for me. I therefore very much enjoyed studying the studio aesthetic of them in person. Wallinger revealed that they were created during a dark period as he was “not the happiest of people at the time” (notes made during Artist Talk). This to me is evident in the intensity and tactility of the paintings. What I love about them is they are merely traces of a gesture; light and delicate marks of a few studio moments. Wallinger made a total of sixty-six of these, which proves the release he must have felt in their creation. I believe this is evident in the gestures themselves, as they seem to conflict between smooth flowing marks and more frantic, hesitant ones.

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The show is very much orientated on this notion of mirroring and identity, particularly given the title of the show and Wallinger’s Self Portraits (2007-14) which take the form of the capital letter ‘I’, in various inky renditions on canvas. These are hung on the bottom floor on the same wall that the id Paintings occupy upstairs; a rather satisfying curatorial parallel which again ties into the idea of mirroring. This is furthered by the split format of the exhibition between two cities, the fact the id Paintings are mirror images on either side of the canvas and double the artist’s height, as well as several other features.

I sometimes find it difficult to absorb the work fully in a preview environment, as there is the distraction of conversation, constantly flowing movement and of course the bar! However what I love about previews is the conversation and questions that arise in response to the works and how this environment enables people to engage with one another and respond to interpretations. It is always interesting, following these discussions, to return to the exhibition at a later point and view the artwork in contemplation of the ideas that were generated at the preview.

To find out more about Mark Wallinger’s exhibition, click here to visit Fruitmarket Gallery’s website.

To read and learn more about State Britain, click here to visit Tate’s website.

Edinburgh Escapism

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

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

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

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

Sculptural History

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

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

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

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British Art Show 8

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

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

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

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

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

If Only…

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

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

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

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