Thursday, 12 July 2012

Erwin Wurm

Having developed his photographic series for over two decades, Erwin Wurm is finally having his first solo exhibition in the UK, showing at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery until September 2nd. ‘One Minute Sculptures’ is a concept the Austrian artist has been working on, as aforementioned, for many years, and this exhibition showcases a selection of his photographs from the 1990s. Wurm’s work addresses the question, what is sculpture? And makes us reconsider what we feel we know and accept about this traditional artistic medium.
Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ are created in the immediate present, and are strictly temporary, taking away any of the permanency that we associate with sculpture. The artist combines live subjects with everyday lifeless objects, in a way making his human models into simply another material to work with. Interestingly this technique often makes the objects appear to dominate or manipulate the subject, in a clever reversal of roles.
Wurm has certainly been redefining sculpture from the word go. Reminiscent of the Surrealist ‘objects’ of the early 20th century, the emotionally varied aspects of his work are certainly an innovative continuation of earlier rebellious sculpture. His work is essentially an amalgamation of various mediums; not only does he focus on the sculpture aspect, but this is contained within photography, and all his images have a performance element to them. In a sense the temporary nature of Wurm’s sculptures makes each photograph a documentation of a spectacle; they are memorable, but not continuous.
Many of Wurm’s photographs have a comical or playful edge to them, but these lie among others which certainly have much darker and violent connotations. The artist uses the simplest of gestures and especially familiar objects to create a feeling of both surprise and unease in the viewer, in a way mirroring the spontaneous and often surprising path of everyday life. Wurm himself has suggested that his work reflects the many aspects that make up a human being, both physically and spiritually, which is perhaps why his photographs simply combine the elements and objects we are met with every day, just in alternative scenarios. It is in this way that Wurm seeks to integrate art with the regular flow of existence, with his subtle commentary on the impermanency of living.
There is a variety of Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ within the Open Eye’s exhibition, including a combination of both satirical and violent images. Photographs that involve, for example, stationary lodged into a subject’s facial orifices, are interestingly comical and aggressive at the same time; just one reason why Wurm’s work is so thought-provoking and innovative. Other live subjects are rendered faceless with just legs showing, taking away any personal or entirely human aspect, and making them as objective as the lifeless items they are used alongside with.
Wurm believes that everything around him is useful, and can be used to some effect in his art. However the transitory nature of his work seems to comment on the trend of disposability, and perhaps dwindling permanency, in our contemporary society. His pieces exist as a sculpture only in the moment that the shot is taken, and are like documentations of fleeting memories which disappear so rapidly from our temporary memory. While slightly unnerving and bewildering at times, Erwin Wurm’s ‘One Minute Sculptures’ are a refreshing and relevantly modern take on sculpture, which continue the battle of temporary vs. permanent by existing only within photographs, a clever move on the artist’s part.
by Liz Buckley

This review was first published on ArtFace, read more here -

Images: Courtesy Liverpool Open Eye Gallery

Friday, 29 June 2012

Turner, Monet, Twombly

The world of J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly is awash with sea, sky, and landscapes, and is a place where it seems colour and atmosphere are of higher importance than subject matter. All three of these artists appear to express their emotions through colour, and by looking around Tate Liverpool’s new exhibition, it appears the similarities don’t end there. This show hosts an abundance of work by each artist, and shows a progression in Impressionist painting that leaves the most contemporary of the three, Twombly, adrift between modern and traditional techniques.
Each artist has clearly been influenced by their predecessor, but individually they have pushed the boundaries of impressionist painting to create their own signature styles. Arguably all three share romantic colour palettes at times, and certainly expressive brush strokes, but where Turner and Monet paint landscapes, Twombly has opted for a more abstract approach. Still, his brave sweeps of paint do seem reminiscent of the raging seas in Turner’s pieces, and the bold reds and blacks in ‘Petals of Fire’ a progression from earlier muted yellows and browns. The question this exhibition seems to ask is, what of the mortality of classical painting? Is it still somewhat alive in Twombly’s work?
With regards to technique, there are perhaps more similarities between Twombly and Monet, particularly if we are to consider the importance of brush strokes. Twombly in particular ladens canvases with thick paint in a much bolder way than Turner ever did, even at times emblazoning his pieces with their titles, as in ‘Wilder Shores of Love.’ Monet and Twombly also have a shared use of pink, which creeps into many of their pieces. This exhibition has several of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ on show, as well as other iconic works such as ‘London, Houses of Parliament, Burst of Sunlight in the Fog,’ and
 ‘View of Rouen,’ all of which are mirrored in Twombly’s romantic use of pinks and purples. The misty blues and oranges in Monet’s pieces are however more reminiscent of Turner, who often opted for an earthy palette, using the colours of the elements. Monet’s ‘Morning on the Seine’ and Turner’s ‘The Thames Above Waterloo Bridge’ both share pastel qualities and subtly represented scenery which make them fit well together within this show.
It is interestingly the use of white which seems to link Turner to Twombly in this exhibition. From smaller series’ of oil paintings by Turner such as ‘Red Sky Over a Beach’ and ‘Sea and Sky’ there is an evident likeness to Twombly, with only hints of other colours bleeding through. This unexpected lightness from Turner, and sometimes an unexpected darkness in his other pieces, is also something we see reflected in the contemporary bold works of Twombly.

What this exhibition has done has created a sort of timeline of progressive Impressionism. Even if you fail to see the similarities between these three artists there is no denying the shared expressive force created by their paintings, and the crucial importance of colour. Monet’s ‘Water lilies’ are certainly a highlight of this exhibition, their misty blues expressing a quiet melancholia in response to the artist’s personal grief. However all three artists have equal weighting within the show, offering viewers both small and large examples of their work, and an opportunity to consider any shared motivations and painterly techniques. All considered truly radical painters in their time, Turner, Monet and Twombly’s explorations of colour, light and emotive expression have created some stunning pieces, more than 60 of which are on show here.
Monet’s interest in Turner is well documented, but Twombly’s adoption of such classic styles is a new consideration which Tate Liverpool is opening up to the masses. While at times these artists have conspicuously different styles, this amalgamation of their work is a fitting and thought-provoking one, and in a way, all three are keeping each other alive through their work.
By Liz Buckley

This review was first posted on ArtFace, read more here

Image: Claude Monet
Poplars on the Epte 1891
© Tate, 2011

Monday, 25 June 2012

A Little Place Called The Cornerhouse...

The Cornerhouse, situated on the top corner of Oxford Road next to Oxford Road Station, is one of Manchester’s most buzzing creative hubs, offering work from artists, publishers and independent filmmakers alike. This cultural hotspot has three cinema screens, along with 3 floors of gallery space showing the best of local and international contemporary art. The Cornerhouse has also certainly succeeded in merging arts and culture with relaxation and socialising by having a lively cafe and bar on its first floor, which is always bustling with both locals and tourists. There is also a shop on the ground floor selling art books and publications, which additionally serves as an international distribution service.
The Cornerhouse opened its door to creative individuals in the mid 80’s, and has remained at the centre of alternative and contemporary arts from the word go. This artistic Mecca even has internationally-renowned artist Damien Hirst as one of its patrons! On the gallery side, the venue welcomes both up-and-coming and established artists, often providing individuals with the opportunity for first-time solo exhibitions, or brand new commissions especially for the Cornerhouse.
With several important galleries residing in Manchester, the Cornerhouse does well to maintain such a strong and diverse visual arts programme, despite being a slightly smaller venue than some others. Its exhibitions are open to all kinds of media, from sculpture, to painting, to large scale installations, to (especially) film. The flagship cinema at the Cornerhouse has a wide and varied film programme, showing a range of productions including foreign films, brand new independents, animations, re-releases, avant-garde pictures, and many more. They even run two of their very own film festivals every year, known as ‘¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival,’ and ‘Exposures: New Talent in Moving Image.’
Both the cinema and gallery spaces at the Cornerhouse provide a platform for new artistic talent, which is what makes it such an important cultural hub in Manchester. The people there also understand the importance of learning within the arts sector, and so provide everything from art courses to curator-led tours of each exhibition.
Earlier this year the Cornerhouse and Manchester’s Library Theatre in St. Peter’s Square decided to merge, in the hope of creating a new cultural organisation for the arts. This amalgamation will have its very own building by 2014 in Manchester’s First Street area, creating a new home for various artistic platforms. This will hopefully open many doors for the Cornerhouse, allowing it not only more space but the opportunity to build a new identity.
Always at the epicentre of innovative artistic thinking, the Cornerhouse believes it will become more dynamic than ever after its move to First Street, and will continue its duty in serving Manchester and the rest of the world a vibrant selection of visual arts.
by Liz Buckley

Image Courtesy: Press Office, Cornerhouse

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Manchester Faces Forward

Manchester has traded goods, most importantly cloth, with Africa for at least the last two hundred years. The Whitworth Gallery’s new exhibition entitled ‘We Face Forward’ asks its visitors, what place do these kind of traditions have in modern society? Comprising of 32 artists from 9 African countries, this show includes a selection of both new commissions and existing West African art that is being shown for the first time in the UK, as well as many pieces from the Whitworth’s own collection. ‘We Face Forward’ is running throughout the summer and is part of a city-wide celebration of Manchester’s relationship with West Africa, with events and exhibitions taking place at various venues. What many of the pieces on show consider is, are textile-based African artworks indicative of continuing sustainability, or a dying practise?
Meschac Gaba’s flag has become the emblem for ‘We Face Forward,’ as it has been created by blending together the flags of each West African nation with the flag of the UK, symbolising harmony and an ever-growing friendship between our communities.
The curators for this exhibition say the idea for ‘We Face Forward’ grew from some of the existing textile collections already residing at the Whitworth. A selection of these are on show as part of the exhibition, including examples of wax prints, tie-dye, batik and adire, showing not only African artistic practises but the adoption of such techniques in our own culture. Garments such as Chief robes, warrior tunics and dance skirts demonstrate the colourful and rich heritage that Africa has shared with us, and show that textiles are used here as an expressive medium, and not just as an ethnographic curiosity.
Despite the friendly bond between Manchester and West Africa, artists such as Armadou Sanogo and Romuald Hazoume have chosen to explore problems of white supremacy and slavery in their work. Sanogo’s piece entitled ‘Disabled Gaze’ seems to be perhaps indicative of an ignorance in the West regarding African cultures, and the artist has chosen to leave his works frameless as a way of diverging from Western traditions of framing. Hazoume’s work combines satire with seriousness in his exploration of human labour. In his videos, photographs, and installation of a street seller’s cart piled high with discarded items such as sunglasses and mobile phones, he hopes to demonstrate the waste caused by consumerist trades, and the continuing danger faced by African traders as they struggle to get by.
Nii Obodai’s stunning black and white photographs are indicative of the artist’s personal search for what he feels the future holds for him. He asks the viewers to consider their own future, and how much we really assert our independence...should we question the identity which we have let society construct? A lot of the work on show for this exhibition questions cultural conventions and how our views and practises can be corrupted by power. Obodai’s photographs explore a West African identity, and demonstrate the difficulty in understanding a culture which is so distant from our own. He believes the beauty of one’s surroundings can often bring people back from crisis or despair, and remains hopeful for a future of freedom and equality, which is symbolised by the light shining through his photographs.
A lot of the pieces on show here indicate a hope that our cross-cultural bond with West Africa is growing ever stronger. Francois-Xavier Gbre’s photographs of derelict buildings in the midst of crumbling down represent a moment of great change, metaphorically representing the relationship between the UK and West African Nations. Attempting to bridge the gap between dreams of equality and reality, Marthine Tayou’s new work for this exhibition ‘The World Falls Apart’ creates almost a forest of towering wooden poles, emblazoned with a mixture of trade goods and sacred objects, perhaps in the hope of making Western Souvenirs and African items indistinguishable. Amidst the poles of wood, Tayou has hung sculptures, or ‘diamonds,’ made from cotton and metal, and these spill out into the park outside the gallery.
This cultural celebration of Manchester’s contextual ties with West Africa not only brings to light problematic issues of the past, such as the slave trade and Africa’s struggling economy, but creates a colourful collaboration of varying work, which shows the sheer wealth of talent and imagination in West Africa, in both traditional and contemporary mediums. ‘We Face Forward’ encourages a new appreciation of the West African culture, with humbling photographs and stunning textile creations, making viewers support the growing friendship between Britain and West Africa, and hope for a less consumerist future.
By Liz Buckley

Images: Meschac Gaba, Ensemble, 2012 - and Barthélémy Toguo, Jugement Dernier I, Courtesy the artist, Whitworth Gallery and Gallerie Lelong

First published on

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Oriel Davies Open 2012

The Oriel Davies Open 2012 showcases the work of 38 artists selected from over 600 diverse submissions. This exhibition is a demonstration of the wealth of artistic practise both locally and internationally, with each piece pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. Within this show visitors can find a range of innovative materials used in a variety of ways, creating social and environmental juxtapositions.
Among the varying mediums used in the chosen submissions for this show, visitors can find sculptures from artists such as James Clarkson, Ruth Boothroyd, and Rosie Dolton, whose piece ‘Untitled’ (2011) consists of a wooden crate colourfully embroidered with roses, turning something old or mundane into something surprising and attractive. Ben Woodesen, another successful artist chosen for this exhibition, has created a mixed media collaboration which consists of a precarious sheet of glass balanced on a bungee cord in the corner of the gallery space, entitled ‘Slice and Dice.’ This piece feels like a physical manifestation of the precarious and unpredictable nature of contemporary artistic practise, and perhaps the unease felt by emerging artists. ‘Coal Sphere’ (2011) created by Jessica Lloyd-Jones, allows the viewer to find something intriguing and oddly beautiful where they perhaps normally wouldn’t. Her piece engages the viewer, requiring them to look into the lens of the coal ball, where they will be surprised to find plant life growing within.
There are also a stunning collection of photographs on show for this exhibition, including artists such as Tom Lovelace, Anna Solum and Barbara and Zafer Baran, whose ‘Moon Drawing 9764’ and ‘Star Drawing 7012’ pieces use scattered light to create hauntingly beautiful compositions. One of the larger collections of photographs within the gallery space was contributed by Mike Perry, who has titled his pieces ‘Mor Plastig 15 Bottle Grid’ (2012). This photographic series consists of 15 images of old bottles, found washed up by the sea, presumably along the Welsh seaside. The textures and colours of these dirty, squashed and cracked found objects makes for surprisingly attractive images, perhaps indicative of the vibrant yet rugged landscape in Wales, and these certainly reflect the diverse and colourful amalgamation of social cultures found in this exhibition.
Artists using more traditional mediums such as drawing and painting have still managed to challenge any confines of the materials for their submissions here. Andy Harper’s ‘Actus Reus’ oil pictures are beautifully detailed and rich in colour and texture, and Angela Smith’s series using gloss, enamel and oil has created marbled cross sections of animals, pushing the boundaries of traditional representation. Julie Cassels’ silent video painting ‘Mountain Lake – Gold Dress’ (2011) has combined two mediums to create an image in which the stillness of the photographic image becomes animated – a truly intriguing and innovative piece. This is certainly not the only use of video in this exhibition, as the overall winner of the Oriel Davies Open, Melanie Manchot, submitted a video piece which explores chance encounters and identity. Short film ‘Decommissioned’ (2011) can also be found on show here, created by artist Mary Vetisse, who won the student prize in the Oriel Davies Open 2012. Vetisse’s video appears to focus on changing landscapes and memory, seemingly personal to the artist. Viewer’s are confronted by the familiar occurrence of places moving and changing around them, and reminded of how photographic images can force-feed our memory. 
The Oriel Davies Open 2012 is an overall engaging and varied exhibition, showcasing both personal and contextual pieces from varying locations. The assortment of pieces comment on different social and environmental stories, and boundaries with regards to medium and subject are certainly pushed. Here viewers can find a mixture of engaging and thought-provoking mixed media and video submissions, alongside other diverse classic and contemporary techniques such as sculpture and photography, which take the mediums to a new level. Some pieces have even integrated and hidden themselves within the gallery space by chipping away at the gallery wall or replacing traditional electric sockets with plugs connected by plaited hair, both whimsical submissions courtesy of Shan Hur and Sarah Pager. On the whole this exhibition provides an intriguing assortment of creative submissions, showing a small but stunning snapshot of local and international contemporary art.
By Liz Buckley

Image: Mike Perry - 'Mur Plastig' (courtesy Oriel Davies Gallery)

(This review was first published on Interface and is the result of an Interface and Oriel Davies Bursary Partnership)

Friday, 27 April 2012

'Subversion' - the search for a modern Arab identity

The manipulation of media imagery and a manufactured portrayal of the East has often led to incorrect and naive views of non-Western cultures. The current exhibition at Manchester’s Cornerhouse entitled ‘Subversion’ is a collection of works by several Arab artists who explore their cultural identity and a historical struggle for acceptance, in several thought provoking mixed-media pieces. The artists use dark humour and play with stereotyping to portray the problematic nature of mass media culture and politics. Many of the pieces resonate with a longing for cultural acceptance and a desire to break free from such engineered stereotypes, and invite the viewer to look beyond the violent connotations associated with some Eastern areas, welcoming a modern Arab identity.
Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour has contributed several pieces for this exhibition, one of which is her installation of little model astronauts, which she has cleverly renamed ‘Palestinauts,’ and emblazoned with the flag of Palestine. This installation coincides with Sansour’s video ‘A Space Exodus,’ from 2009, using adapted clips from Kubrick’s ‘A Space Odyssey.’ The space helmets worn by the people in this video seem indicative of barriers that Arab cultures have had to hide behind for social and political acceptance. As the famous proclamation “one giant leap for mankind” is spoken, a Palestinian flag is placed on the moon, signalling a kind of achievement of equality between Eastern and Western cultures, whilst also mirroring a well known piece of media footage. The use of dark outer space in these pieces however also seems to suggest society’s fear of the unknown, and past labelling of Arab people as ‘outsiders,’ stemming simply from a lack of both education and firsthand experience of such cultures.
Many of the artists in this exhibition appear to have used the medium of film as a way of commenting on the influential nature of televised material. Tarzan and Arab’s ‘Gazawood Project’ (2010) consists of a small movie theatre installation in which a wall is lined with gory film posters. Here the artists appear to be playing up to stereotypes in their film, portraying the East as a place fraught with violence and desolate war-torn villages. Several of the artists within ‘Subversion’ have centred their work on the way their home countries are portrayed by the Western media, focusing on issues such as suicide bombing and terrorism. Far outside such places, we can often only form a view via what is shown on the news, but this exhibition evidences another side to Arab culture; not one of violence, but one which is constantly searching for acceptance.
Akram Zaatari’s ‘Red Chewing Gum’ (2000) is a heart-warming video letter from a man to his lover, using the colour red not as a colour of blood or violence, but of love, personal emotions and memory. This thought provoking short film provokes empathy in the viewer and is a reminder of just how problematic and hurtful living in war-torn countries can be on a personal level, as well as on a wider social scale.
Within many lesser known cultures there can certainly be a feeling of isolation and a longing for social equality and acceptance, and what the artists have created within this exhibition is not only a cultural commentary personal to them but also a modern Arab identity, one which is better accepted and understood. Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s piece for this exhibition is a large scale puzzle covering a mirror, entitled ‘Circle of Confusion’ (1997). The puzzle makes up a photograph of Beirut, however sections of the puzzle are missing to reveal the mirror beneath. This is indicative of both physical and metaphorical ‘cracks’ in society, and perhaps a lack of knowledge of some Arab cultures. As the viewer looks in closely they are confronted not only by their reflection but by their own personal ideas about such places that have been constructed by the media, and often by the ease of cultural generalisation.
‘Subversion’ presents both Arab places and cultures on another level, allowing the viewer to obtain an altered and contemporary perception of these Eastern civilizations. The artists’ mockery of stereotypes and subtle commentary on the influence of the media is clever and thought provoking. The use of film and popular culture such as soap operas and video games addresses the mediated representation that both the people and their regions have faced for a long time, and contains a personal narrative from some of the artists. This exhibition demonstrates perfectly the roles that society has had Arab cultures perform, as well as the duplicitous nature of a modern Arab tradition, as they continue to face both struggle and growth in the modern world.
By Liz Buckley

Image: A Space Exodus, by Larissa Sansour, 2009

First published on - give it a visit!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Sibyl Montague, Pia Borg & Sean Vicary

Despite showing the work of three individual artists, the current exhibition at Oriel Davies Gallery, offers an array of installations that all complement each other by raising questions of perception, context, and meaning. Sibyl Montague uses found objects to create unusual sculptural amalgamations, and the gallery has also commissioned a new work by the artist, which is a video to accompany the physical works. The two work together and create the sense of a performance in which the objects have strayed from their conventional meaning. In Montague’s work there is certainly a theme of the temporary and, certainly in the video, the rhythmic. This ties in nicely with Pia Borg’s work, which in this exhibition comprises several short film installations, all of which seem to play with the rhythmic nature of time and movement. There is some beautiful and haunting imagery in her work, especially within ‘The Crystal World’ (2012). Borg’s work, like Montague’s, seems to want to change our perception of time, and juxtaposes the animate and inanimate. The third and final artist in this exhibition, Sean Vicary, changes the focus of specific natural objects, presenting them as enlarged and sentient. Film’s ability to both speed up and slow down time is certainly a factor which seems to be at play in all these artists’pieces, as well as perhaps the preservation of memory. All of the work for this exhibition is brilliantly thought-provoking and certainly makes the viewer question their perception of what is real and what is mediated.
Sibyl Montague is an Irish artist currently living in London, and this is her first solo exhibition. ‘Arm Around You’ offers a collection of sculptures made from everyday found materials, all of which are brought to life with movement and lighting. Montague’s aim with these pieces is to free such familiar materials from normal association, and give them new meaning and purpose by becoming temporary props in a performance. The physical sculptures here are an extension of the video installation that the artist has produced for the exhibition. This short film consists of the objects ‘performing,’ and seeming to move independently in a backdrop of flickering lights and unsettling sounds. All of Montague’s work here nods to the temporary; these objects have come together by chance and met with a contradictory context, they are not presenting any permanency. The cylindrical, spherical and circular pieces within the sculptures suggest the possibility of movement, as do others which indicate flight or climbing, however all of the pieces are stationary; movement has been frozen in time.
As aforementioned, ‘The Crystal World’ is a film installation by Australian artist Pia Borg, and is also the name of her exhibition here. This video installation includes imagery of cloudy waters and floating hair from Laughton’s 1955 film ‘The night of the Hunter,’ and above all shows the crystallisation of liquid, indicating the freezing of movement and time. These crystals halt the movement of contraptions such as wheels and cars, questioning the power of the natural over the manmade. Borg’s other film installations here such as Palimpsest (2009) and Footnote (2004) all play with the concept of time and create anxiety in the viewer with such sounds as the ticking of a metronome or the whirring of a machine. Like in Montague’s film, rhythm plays a big part in indicating a passing of time, and some kind of repetitive performance. ‘The Automaton’ (2008) includes many clocks, cogs and turning mechanisms indicative of the monotonous rhythm of life; the inclusion of the bed as a prop also suggests routine time spent between life and death. Pias Borg’s work shows us how animate objects can seem inanimate when captured on film, and vice versa, making them seem distanced and even false. By using the medium of film, Borg has been able the blur several time frames into one, whilst also suspending movement and memory into a kind of film crystal.
In Sean Vicary’s work ‘Lament’ (2012), natural objects and animals seem to sit in their correct context yet at the same time appear completely independent of the landscape. This animation of usually inanimate objects brings to light a detached sense of belonging in one’s surroundings. The rhythmic movements of the leaves, shells, pines cones and other objects seem indicative of invisible process at work behind the piece, and these altered portrayals make the viewer construct a new personal meaning, something which is certainly true of all the aforementioned pieces on show here. The audio-visual relationship in Vicary’s ‘Lament’ suggest a kind of ritual, complemented by the hints of poetry and particularly the imagery of spinning frogs that appear to dance in a circle. As an extension of his exhibition, Sean Vicary has implemented related imagery through GPS positioning, available to view on a mobile platform. This work is wonderfully innovative and certainly indicative of our quickly advancing digital world. Through a smartphone, viewers are able to see floating leaves from Vicary’s film installation, appearing as part of the immediate landscape but invisible outside of the device’s screen.
These three exhibitions at Oriel Davies have been cleverly curated to thematically weave in perfectly with one another. The work of all the artists showing here portray an exploration of time, rhythm, landscape and various juxtapositions transferred from life into film. Each piece encourages the viewer to adopt an altered perception of what is real and what is fictional, questioning accepted meanings and contexts. By using the medium of film, each artist has allowed themselves to play with time, movement and stillness, creating internal landscapes which are both permanent and temporary.
- Liz Buckley
Images: Sibyl Montague, Pia Borg, Sean Vicary - courtesy Oriel Davies Gallery

(This review was first published on Interface and is the result of an Interface and Oriel Davies Bursary Partnership)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

1984 Looks Like This

George Orwell’s enigmatic novel ‘1984,’ first published in 1949, got the world thinking; was this a prophecy, or simply science fiction? First written not so much as a prediction for the future, but as a topical fiction story, Orwell’s prophetic tale has turned out to be chillingly relevant to every generation since its publication. The current exhibition ‘1984 Looks Like This’ at Salford Art Gallery centres on the story of ‘1984,’ as well as the photography of David Dunnico, who as an artist has occupied himself with issues surrounding surveillance, as well as the unnerving relevance of Orwell’s novel to today’s society. This exhibition offers a collection of work by Dunnico, as well as his impressive collection of copies of ‘1984’ and related ephemera, showcasing not only the changing covers of the book but also its consistent relevancy to our modern culture.
Image courtesy David Dunnico Exhibition Catalogue, Salford Art Gallery Website

Friday, 30 March 2012

Roger Ballen's Shadow Land, Manchester Art Gallery, Review and Interview!

‘Shadow Land’ – Roger Ballen’s photographs from 1983 – 2011
The photographer Roger Ballen is world renowned for his powerful and evocative images, which with consistent processes and format, still remain timeless today. Manchester Art Gallery’s new exhibition ‘Shadow Land’ offers a huge collection of Roger’s photographs spanning from 1983 to the present day, showing not only a chronology of work but also his evolution as an artist. Ballen’s documentary yet fictional style has certainly developed over the years and his most contemporary work offers a surreal painterly style which is far removed from the realist portraiture of his early photographs, such as the infamous Dressie and Casie (1993). His consistent square monochrome format goes far beyond simply black and white, and includes an extensive palette of grey and charcoal, presenting his subjects in a darkened and harsh reality.
Ballen’s photographs have a strong sense of freezing time, and as an artist that still uses a camera with film, Roger relies heavily upon chance when trying to frame the perfect instance. But it is this chance element which the artist loves. Roger’s subjects may completely contradict the direction given by him, but these are often the outcomes which he deems most successful. Working with live subjects, and certainly in his later work an abundance of animals, Roger says his photographs are extremely difficult to compose and capture, but the beauty of his work is that the images still remain so fleeting. The elements of the photograph find a temporary relationship which gives Ballen’s photographs their fictional connotations; the relationship may be real in the artist’s mind but completely invisible to the subjects.
Roger describes his work as ‘imaginary realism,’ and his pieces certainly make the viewer question what is and is not really happening within the image. His work, in particular the ‘Platteland’ series, serves to bring to light previously unseen corners of society in South Africa, where the artist has resided for 30 years. What makes Ballen’s photographs so resonant is perhaps their honesty. When his early series first came to circulation the world was shocked that poor white people actually existed in Africa, and it is in these ways Roger’s work makes the viewer question their own ignorance surrounding the unknown.
All of Ballen’s photographs are aesthetically powerful, and his consistency as an artist makes it hard to tell which image is from which era without the help of a label. The questions which run through all of the work in this exhibition is what do the pictures mean, how could they be described. The photographs have a stark clarity yet are confusing at the same time. Roger feels that his work cannot be described, and that the meaning should remain open-ended, especially with so many juxtapositions happening within the images. This is particularly true of the ‘Asylum’ series, which is the artist’s most recent venture. With people now completely gone from his work, all of these photographs are of wild birds living in an old house in Johannesburg. The birds, a symbol of peace, freedom and flight, contradict their context, a place of entrapment, chaos and a darker side of life, as can be seen perfectly in Dove Catcher (2009). Roger likes to think of the Asylum as both a place of insanity and a place of safety. His pictures aren’t necessarily dark, but the viewers are, and it is paranoia and a fear of the unknown which manifests itself in Ballen’s work.
‘Shadow Land’ certainly informs the viewer of Roger Ballen’s progression in photography, and to which direction he has taken his work, leaving behind figural images to concentrate on animals, and his ever frequent inclusion of wall drawings which cleverly amalgamates drawing with photography, particularly in Roar (2002). While photographing this darker side of reality may seem like it exploits the subjects, the people in Roger’s pictures have in fact welcomed their new fame, and feel that they have been given a new sense of self and importance. Ballen’s work does not seek to be political in any way; it is simply a comment on the psychological and physical human condition. The subjects become actors performing their own lives, blurring the line between the real and the fantastical.
Roger says all his work has been a personal journey, and he hasn’t become influenced by anything else in the art world; his consistent format and aesthetic is indicative of this. The ‘Shadow Land’ exhibition allows the viewer to experience the artist’s journey and the evolution of his photographs, while continuing the struggle to find any specific meaning in this stunning yet enigmatic work.

Interview with Roger Ballen
LB: Roger, would you say it was your move to South Africa which spurred your interest in photography, because I know before you were a geologist, so was it just the things you saw there that made you think ‘I need to take photographs’?
RB: Well I first came to South Africa in 1974, I hitchhiked there from Cairo and Cape Town. Then in 1982 I did a PHD in geology. South Africa was going through all sorts of transitions at that time. It’s hard to know what part of the pictures are South Africa and what parts are my head, what are parts are people’s heads and other countries, so it’s a mixture of all these elements, and over the years they’ve created a big part of my aesthetic.
LB: The title of the show is ‘Shadow Land,’ would you say this refers to the way in which your work brings to light previously unseen corners of society?
RB: I think the shadows are a part of you, the spirit of you, the spirit of the world, and a side of the world you don’t necessarily see all the time, that maybe you don’t want to define. It’s the other side of the mind, the other side of the place, the alter ego. So I think what you’re looking at here is part of a physical space but also a psychological space, and what I call the ‘shadow space.’
LB: What makes your work special is the relationship between the different elements within the photograph, for example the faces, the wires, etc, would you say this is purely aesthetic or that the pictures each tell a story?
RB: Well I think each picture in a way has to be completed; the mind has to feel a completed narrative so that the images have a coherency. If the mind doesn’t believe there’s a coherency then it won’t understand what it’s looking at. I wouldn’t say, oh well the story started here and ended here, but there has to be an element of completion in most of the pictures. Most of the pictures have a logic to them that follows through.
LB: You have said that your pictures are really difficult to capture, for example the live animals, yet they seem like such fleeting moments, is this effect intentional? Do you prefer them to look impulsive or that they’ve been composed?
RB: I like my pictures to be clear and concise, focused. I feel that as a photographer one can’t fight the laws of the media, of the laws of certain phenomena in the world around us. Photography, as far as I understand it, it works best when the viewer sees the photograph as a moment, this is really crucial. A great picture is one that makes the viewer believe in it.
LB: What is it about the things you photograph that captures your imagination?
Well I think every picture you see up here is about my imagination, they are all ultimately the product of my imagination. These things don’t necessarily capture my imagination but they have been transformed by it. People ask me ultimately what inspires me, I say I don’t work with inspiration, I work with hard work, intensity, commitment, passion. I work hard because I have a passion for taking pictures, and recording my life through the camera.
RB: A lot of your photographs appear to blur the line between the real and the fictional, especially the images with drawings in the background, in what ways would you say they do this? Do you feel that the relationship between the elements of the photograph may be real in your head but fictional to the subjects?
RB: Well when you look at the pictures I think you say, is this a place, is this possible? In a documentary sense I could actually encounter this place, I’m sure it exists in some way or another, but you’re never sure what’s part of my imagination. So in my work there’s a fine line between what could be documentary and what could be imagination. It’s really a question of how far could I transform these places.
LB: Is there a way in which you hope people will interpret your work, or any moral message viewers should take from it? The powerful aesthetic definitely resonates through you, is this simply your intention?
RB: Well my intention and my hope is that the pictures stick in people’s heads, and help them to better understand themselves, and better understand their relationship with the world around them. Basically I hope the pictures expand people’s consciousness in some constructive way, but I would never go beyond that, I don’t know what the pictures do to people ultimately. There are all sorts of thing that people can’t put into words, and I can’t necessarily understand how they feel, so I’m talking very generally. I just hope the pictures form a constructive relationship and act constructively in one way or another. Art ultimately should be about the artists giving themselves and helping to better people’s consciousness, their psyche, making them more aware, that should be the purpose of viewing, but that’s just my opinion.
By Liz Buckley.

Images: Puppy Between Feet (1999), and, Head Inside Shirt (2001).
Courtesy, the artist and Hamilton's Gallery, London.

Both this review and interview are to be published on the ArtFace website, and they made it possible for me to go to the press day! Read more here -

Friday, 9 March 2012

Fashion vs. Art

Fashion photography has often been underprivileged as an art form, especially when it comes head to head with classical painting or sculpture, or even just other more ‘artistic’ forms of photography. The manipulated and often false images from this genre can sometimes leave the viewer looking at a rather empty image. However Chen Man, a Chinese photographer from Mongolia currently showing a variety of her work at Manchester’s Chinese Arts Centre, has cleverly converged art with high fashion in her aesthetically intoxicating images. Man’s work plays with the juxtaposition of the real and imaginary, as well as the manufactured and the organic, creating her own kind of futuristic images, where fashion meets art.
Modern culture is certainly always looking towards the futuristic and the digital, to utopian and imagined realities. Chen Man’s photographs, despite being heavily manipulated, still maintain the essence of her culture, which she captures in the colours and patterns within her work. The models we see in these images have a hyper-real quality, they are almost alien girls, and seem indicative of society’s unrealistic imagining of the perfect. Many of the photographs on show in Chen Man’s self titled show at the Chinese Arts Centre, focus on the model’s faces, on lips and eyes, giving them a bold and resonant quality. Young Pioneer and Chang’e no.1 Lunar Probe (2009) shines with female power, desire, ecstasy, and the sublime. Like many of Man’s pieces the sky and clouds here are important; they represent something other-worldly like heaven or space, presenting a clever mix of religious and sci-fi connotations.
Fashion photography can often centre around obtaining perfection, and the conflict between natural and airbrushed images. The photographs in this exhibition make an articulate comment on this, by making post-production and editing an honest and integral part of their aesthetic. Chen Man has openly incorporated her personal culture into the palette of her pieces, for example her use of vivid red, and digitally added swirling patterns including flowers and dragons, side by side with the Chinese models.
While many images of models focus purely on the subject, Chen Man has brought in a co-existing narrative and context, which mainstream fashion photography can sometimes leave ignored. She often uses city landscapes from China, which coincide with the contours of the female form, and both are merged together in a mixture of real and digitally produced imagery. Man’s photographs somehow make clashing subjects work with one another, and both provide not only aesthetic beauty but a narrative of the artist’s ideas about culture.
Crash (2007) is pure and pale, and is perhaps one of the most significant inclusions in this exhibit. This piece is indicative of what many of Chen Man’s pieces do, which is making the model become a part of the whole image. The lines of the body become one with the digital swirls or the seemingly contradictory urban backdrop. The female models in these photographs are almost abstract, and are working with the entire picture rather than standing alone. Every colour has been carefully preconceived and meticulously edited to reflect the desire for an ‘ideal image.’ The perfectly airbrushed skin of the girls works together with the overlaying patterns, and certainly makes a comment about contemporary fashion imagery and real vs. imagined beauty.
Despite having photographed for the likes of Elle, Nylon and Vogue, amongst many others, Chen Man has maintained her status of artist as well as fashion photographer. Her cleverly engineered photographs not only have a narrative concerning the artists culture but also parallel this with colourful and stimulating compositions, which only adds to the main subject; the fashion. Man has managed to create a mode of photography which adheres to contemporary fashion imagery but still maintains a signature style and artistic manner. Her images are futuristic yet still inclusive of her heritage. Chen Man has made an honest comment about utopian ideals in her work, and it is perhaps for this reason why her photographs are so popular amongst high fashion publications. This exhibition at the Chinese Arts Centre presents a stunning collection of her pieces which make it clear why she is becoming increasingly admired. The post-production of Man’s pictures creates an aesthetically pleasing context for the fashion she is shooting, and she has certainly proved that fashion and art can co-exist.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cotton: Global Threads at The Whitworth, Manchester

Cotton. You’re probably wearing it now. You probably sleep on it every night. The sheer abundance of this material all around us means it usually remains ignored and underappreciated. The cotton industry at one point had its largest export centres in places far and wide; for example India, but also surprisingly enough, Lancashire. The new exhibition at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery is a celebration of all things cotton, including both traditional and contemporary uses, mixed media pieces and installations, but most of all a well deserved celebration of the stuff. ‘Cotton: Global threads’ is an exhibition designed to amalgamate the cultural diversities of these fine threads and fabrics in a showcase of international talent and multiplicity.
Cotton: Global Threads is on at Manchester's Whitworth Gallery until 13th May.

Image: Anne Wilson, Local Industry Cloth

Friday, 3 February 2012

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure...

Well I've finally managed to branch out from online reviewing, and my name is in print (on actual paper). I only started this writing stuff 3 months ago, so I'm quite proud of myself! You can read The Shrieking Violet, a Manchester fanzine, at - and here's my review which is inside!

Lost is Found, Cornerhouse, Manchester - 14/1/12 - 19/2/12

There are many that say that the home is like a nest. It is a place which accumulates all traces of life, past and present, and the thoughts, memories and experiences which create a person’s identity. It may be that the nest is a perfect physical metaphor for a home; just as the twigs and leaves of the nest are weaved together, so too are houses weaved by their inhabitants, to become a place to exist. I felt that that this idea may be at the heart of the new exhibition ‘Lost is Found’ at Manchester’s Cornerhouse, which involves a collection of pieces all exploring the complexity of identity and memory, as well as glorifying the lost and discarded.
When it comes to personal interpretation, it is often the case that an object will have a thousand meanings, one being its literal use, and the others being secret connotations which an item holds for different people. Of course interpretations, and certainly conflicting interpretations, have been integral to Art from the word go, and it is this intriguing connection which this exhibition has used for inspiration.
Despite only consisting of nine artists, this show demonstrates an impressive variety of media. Being a fan of Rauschenberg and his combines, I was particularly drawn to
the pieces using ‘found objects,’ perhaps the most accessible medium to work with, but often overlooked. Andrea Brooker, a Manchester based artist, creates her work using redundant lettering from regenerated or discarded buildings in surrounding areas. Spilt Milk does what it says on the carton, literally spelling out the words of its title on the wall of the room; however this piece is a comment on the displacement of identity which can often be felt when a place from your memory is demolished. In rescuing this lettering from the wreckage, Brooker shows viewers that objects can, and often do, adopt new purpose and meaning.
Richard Proffitt, another emerging patron of the found object, is the creator of a quirky looking ‘bike’ entitled Louisiana Blues, Anywhere (pictured), which certainly can’t be missed when walking into the exhibition. This piece uses everything from sheep skulls to blu-tack to faux fur to a light bulb. While Proffitt states that his scrap amalgamation is a ‘relic inspired by biker subculture,’ it ties in perfectly with the ethos of the rest of the pieces in Lost is Found. Strung with fur and all kinds of threads, twigs and bits of everything, all is recycled here to create a living moped, emblazoned with secret metaphors of personal culture and identity.

As I mentioned previously, the home can be very much like a nest. This is the place in which we build a life, and even build ourselves, until we are ready to fly. It is this comfort of safety contrasted with the experiences of the outside world which creates a complex network of existence. Jon Barraclough’s pieces Everything and Nothing #5 and #8 are a manifestation of such networks. His graphite drawings even have a nest-like quality, and connote all the secret little traces of memories and constant fleeting thoughts within our minds. Like many of the other artworks in this exhibition, this piece hopes to note the traces we all leave behind throughout life, as well as the ease of misplacing a memory in the chaos of the human brain.
Emily Speed is more concerned with implying the fragility of the home. Egg, nest, home, country, universe involves little plaster eggs with tiny houses built on their outer shells, a clever comment on the delicate nature of a home, whether it be the relationships within it or the physical foundations, easily defeated by nature.
An idea that can be felt throughout Lost is Found is the precarious nature of life, of objects, buildings, and of identity. A network is easily broken just as a memory is easily forgotten and an item is easily thrown away. Experiences in life vary greatly, just as I’m sure the interpretation of all these pieces will, but that’s the beauty of Art and of life. What makes our existence so interesting and often surprising is the differing history and meaning that a binds a place or object to someone’s identity, and certainly the fragility of this connection. However what this exhibition celebrates is that there are many places we can look for a misplaced identity, and that whatever we’ve lost, physical or metaphorical, can very often be found in the right place.
by Liz Buckley