Monday, 26 October 2009


I went to Frieze for the first time this year. I went because I felt I should. Every year at art college the tutors say oh you should really go to Frieze or Zoo and I, self-confessed exhibition junkie have not. Firstly there is the cost and then, to be fair I go to all the commercial galleries anyway and see the work how it is meant to be seen rather than stuffed in a tent. But there you go, I felt I should and compelled myself there, half on a whim when my Friday afternoon became unexpectedly available. I was unprepared. It was packed. I never knew that many people were interested in contemporary art (obviously they are if money is involved). There are also, disturbingly, men in suits. I don't think I have ever been witness to a man in a suit in close proximity to contemporary art, surely the laws of physics mean that one should spontaneously combust or something? As an art student one is aware of being at the bottom of the pecking order. In normal circumstances gallery workers are usually quite happy to talk to students. They may have been the only people through the door that day. At Frieze however, everyone shoves past you, giving you disdainful looks for being in the way. Another problem is the number of cameras about, both professional and amateur. I am firmly against cameras in art exhibits. It means no one actually looks at the art, let alone thinks about it. They are just interested in taking a nice photo of it. Frieze is not about the work on show, it is about the cameras. I was caught on film in the Lisson Gallery space. It was distracting, I had to focus on looking suitably nonchalant and intellectual whilst perusing an Angela De La Cruz. I have no idea what I thought about the work at all. You can even commission Ryan Gander to take a portrait of you looking at an artwork in such a way as part of his Frieze Project, We Are Constant.

Frieze is that place where the aura of an artwork is finally removed and it becomes product. One gallery displayed an Andreas Shutze vase in green and brown. I noticed lurking casually behind a door an identical vase in a different colour combination, seemingly in case a collector expressed an interest for the piece but felt in didn't co-ordinate with his sitting room colour scheme, it could be whipped out by an attendant. Everything when packaged in to these small partitions becomes domestic sized. Like a sculpture but feel its too big? At Frieze you can buy the limited edition machete. The general consensus amongst galleries seemed that the best thing to do was to pack in as much work as possible, despite how bad it looked. I lost track of the number of times a decent bit of sculpture was lost amongst a load of bad painting. And then in the centre of everything are the gallery attendants managing to look both casual and awkward, evidently unnerved by being centre-stage. There is also the odd sense of deja-vu created by the fact that the same artists are represented by different galleries in different countries often showing similar or the same work. I lost count of the number of times I saw Mark Wallinger's self-portrait (elephant), one could even purchase a mock up as part of Stephanie Syjuco's Frieze Project Copystand: An Autonomous Manufacturing Zone. The most annoying trend was for galleries to write artist names on the wall next to their work in pencil and compete to see who could have the worst handwriting. It was surprising how few galleries tried to buck trends. The gallery that stood out the most for me was an unknown one based in Milan called Zero. Its exhibit, appropriately enough, comprised solely of a tiny painting in the midst of their white cube. It depicted a puff of smoke emerging from a pair of hands, evoking the illusionary skills of both the magician and the artist.

Frieze is also, of course about the people watching. Another project, Players by Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth, screened live CCTV footage of the fair , presenting the audience as the spectacle. I observed Grayson Perry in full Clare Regalia presenting a new work in Victoria Miro. He had bell s on his shoes so keeping track of him was relatively easy. I also saw Andrew Logan in White Cube. Actually I probably passed by many more famous arts persons but managed only to notice the flamboyantly dressed ones as I was becoming increasingly dazed and confused. I had gone to Frieze with a cold which was turning out evidently to be a mistake. I was feeling increasingly ill but was determined to get around everything as I had paid so much to get in. I also, unfortunately couldn't afford any refreshments. I kept on seeing women wearing fluorescent pink and it made me feel more dizzy (I know fuschia is in this season, but fluorescent pink?). So I trudged on, staggering through a trendy fashion shoot and unnerving an acquaintance I had bumped into by grabbing hold of their arm for support...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

"We are only human sculptures in that...

...we get up every day, walking sometimes, reading rarely, eating often, thinking always, smoking moderately, enjoying enjoyment, looking, relaxing to see, loving nightly, finding amusement, encouraging life, fighting boredom, being natural, daydreaming, travelling along, drawing occasionally, talking lightly, drinking tea, feeling tired, dancing sometimes, philosophising a lot, criticising never, whistling tunefully, dying very slowly, laughing nervously, greeting politely, and waiting till the day breaks." Gilbert & George

On waking he thought of how we get up everyday, 'we' being all of humanity rather than he, himself an individual feeling no connection with anybody else. Everyone gets up at some point, himself included. Well, apart from the dead he supposed but he was worried enough about feeling a connection with anyone living to concern himself with that. They (the living that is) would be getting up at some point even if it was before he went to bed or while he was dreaming. But he felt out of sync with the rest of the world, as though he existed in a time-zone of his own. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and thought about how walking sometimes his feet were out of step with every other person he passed and no matter how he might try and change his pace, the speed and rhythm of his footsteps, he could not align himself to his fellow man.

This was his life. Reading rarely because reading made him feel dizzy and who was he anyway to understand whatever words whoever author had committed to print. Eating often because eating made him feel a little less dizzy. But apart from this, thinking always, that was life for him. Thinking thoughts of isolation such as these. He would roll himself a cigarette and think where once he had chain smoked, he was now smoking moderately or least at a rate that meant he was less likely to get a sore throat but that still, thankfully, his demise would be hastened. It was rare to find him enjoying enjoyment, but he took pleasure in looking at the fronds of smoke curl out around the room. It was relaxing to see them dissipate. And although he knew that probably out there were others loving nightly, finding amusement in each other and generally encouraging life, this seemed far away from him. Indeed the only way he could possibly think of vigour was as something that was required in fighting boredom, and that was something he usually succumbed. To think of being filled with any other passion was not him being natural in his mind. These feelings which he supposed other people must feel felt alien and unhealthy to him. He was thinking this, daydreaming, as travelling along, he took in the streets of London, moving to burn off excess energy rather than to get anywhere. Drawing occasionally on his childhood he tried to think why he felt this way but again this felt alien and unhealthy. He could just about hear himself talking lightly under his breath, but again, it did not feel like him talking.

He occupied his evening at home tea drinking until, feeling tired, he contemplated going to bed. He wondered whether there had ever been a point in his life when he had gone out of an evening and looked forward to it and had gone to parties where he might have even been dancing sometimes and feeling happy with it. He could not remember. All he knew was right now he was philosophising a lot but criticising never the reasons why he was such. He went to bed, whistling tunefully, his mind filled with songs he may have danced to at a party he could not remember. In bed it struck him that he was dying very slowly. This amused him and laughing nervously he turned off the light. He woke early before he had intended to and lay staring at the ceiling. It was dark so he could not see it but he lay there, staring and waiting for its blankness to appear. Lying, and waiting 'til the day breaks.

Notes on the text: I wanted to create a narrative for this artwork by Gilbert and George. People perhaps even more than objects project narratives. It made me think of the differences between artist and artwork, human and sculpture. A person will exist in cycles that fit with other peoples or if not that then is at least ones defined by biology. Even human sculptures get up at the beginning of the day and go to bed at the end. An artwork perhaps only exists when someone is viewing it, or when gallery lights turn on. An artwork is always disassociated to some extent from its creator in that it has its own relationship with the world, with the viewer, in that it will exist even when the artist does not. Maybe, to become an artwork the artist must disassociate himself.  It is interesting that the one overtly artistic act in the statement "drawing occasionally" takes an alternate meaning in the story and seizes to be creative. When I tried to fit in all the actions into a short story, it makes sense to have it as a day in the life. I let each statement determine how the story would evolve. It is interesting how disassociated the protagonist feels. Perhaps the artist always feels like this. Perhaps I always feel like this. I certainly did not intend the story to be this depressing. Partly it is the tense of the original statement by Gilbert and George, the adjectival verbs are oddly passive and difficult to fit into a narrative. Even doing the best I could they are somewhat clunky and oddly passive especially given the active tense needed to make them sensical. I tried to fit each phrase in with a minimum of 'padding' around it required to make sense. I had no idea how it would develop from sentence to sentence. The statement itself really drove what I wrote, and hence the style is very different to how I usually write. It is not necessarily successful but I found it very interesting to work within such set boundaries.        

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Anish Kapoor @ The Royal Academy

There is a work in the first room, When I am Pregnant. It is easy to overlook as the rest of the room is filled with pigment sculptures emitting rich colour and beguiling form and to look at this piece in comparison is to look at nothing. It is to see other people looking at nothing. That is the first thing one sees,  other viewers peering and pacing around it. It is to focus on an empty bit of space. It is like seeing something that is not there and is hence like witnessing a shared hallucination. It is to see the wall melting and to also see an artwork melting into the wall. If one stands around three foot directly in front of the work these optical effects are at their most powerful. It is dizzying to try an focus on what form might be there. Viewed from the side, it is a line, pure and 2-dimensional. As one walks around to the front of the work the line shrinks and eventually disappears. Viewed from about a metre away, it is nothingness but as one steps back more it appears once again as a spotlight. I was once pregnant. Now I am not. It was something both evident and invisible. The wall is impregnated with an idea, those intangible foundations of creativity. It breaks down the physicality of space - what is wall and what is not wall? The closer one is to the work, the less one can see it. 

Much of Kapoor's art works on the same basis. To view his work is to see other viewers looking in awe at nothingness or what is not really there, at an optical illusion. For it is the empty space, this reflecting space that creates an aura for the work. The aura that eats up space by creating something illusory that we perceive as physical. The viewer completes the work, indeed it is just as intriguing to watch people looking at the work as to look at the work itself. In the mirror works they look at their own reflections and reflections of the gallery, really quite ordinary things that now appear marvelous. Stand in the right place and one can even disappear. Viewers are abstracted in the same way as the architectural forms around them. The mirror brings together these distorted forms to create a surrealist composition. The mirror works are particularly effective in the Royal Academy compared to say in a white cube because the gallery space is so evidently a gallery space, it has more formality to be broken down. The other great theme in Kapoor's work is pigment which is an equally anarchic presence in the gallery. It exists outside of the confines of a canvas and crashes onto walls and floors. There is an obvious violence to the canon that fires pellets of pigment repeatedly at the gallery wall but it is also evident in the stately procession of a huge block of red wax which plows through the galleries, smashing pigment across the doorways. The building itself becomes the sculptor carving the form into a cast. Viewed from the front each room temporarily appears painted red as the pigment trundles through.

53rd Venice Biennale

I suppose I should add a few words about the artwork to complement those on the weather. The theme for the curated works was 'making worlds' which could be interpreted as megalomanic but actually turned out to be rather introverted. This tone ran through much of the open submissions as well. Inside the giardini there was a slight fixation on the gardens themselves. In the British pavilion Steve McQueen's lyrical film was shot in a desolate out-of-season giardini (possibly the strongest British showing of the past few years if only because it blacked the hideous architecture of the pavilion. The Czechoslovakian pavilion, planted with woodland, brought the gardens into the exhibition space. The Belgian, Jef Geys' work seemed to be entirely botanical. Inside the Italian pavilion Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster spoke about her previous commissions for the biennale, rather nicely to be fair but by this stage the art world was coming across as increasingly self-obsessed. Many of the collateral shows were site-specific or took Venice as the starting point. Now usually I approve of such an approach. I like art work that does not seek grand inspirations but uses what is already there. However, Venice itself is such an insular place, in both senses of the word, that in such a context the work seemed oppressive and close-minded. It is the largest of the global art festivals after all.

As to some of the other exhibits, well the Nordic pavilion was an all round favorite amongst my contingent. Bruce Nauman provided a show of greatest hits in the American pavilion but his outside exhibits provided more interest. A new sound piece, Giorni, took an onomatopoeic pleasure in the Italian words for the days of the week. An oddly unsettlingly quality was created when the days were recited in the wrong order. Such patterns created by the varying syncing of the voices posed the question do you listen to one voice, the interplay of a pair or let them all wash over you in an overwhelming quantity. Also outside the giardini Miks Mitrevics miniature worlds in the Latvian contribution were surprisingly captivating. In the Mexican exhibit Teresa Margolles was both powerfully political and subtly minimal. Also of note, the Arsenale novissimo has opened this year and created vast new project spaces that show the kind of blockbuster spectacle one usually associates with the biennale. A new AES+F film was a highlight, maybe especially for me as I have fallen in love with the beautiful redhead that graces much of their work. The group show, appropriately enough was named 'unconditional love'. One more point of reference, I finally read Thomas Mann's most famous work, Death In Venice whilst in the city. The protagonist's attraction to the place is described thus, "What he sort was something strange and random, but in a place easily reached".


The day I visited the giardini, when in Venice to view the biennale, it rained. It really rained with a kind of rain that does not really occur back home. The Italian pavilion (it has been renamed this year but I cannot remember the new name, something less memorable) is a very large exhibition space but it was fully taken over by the rain which like white noise frantically invaded and filled the galleries. The halls sounded with a roar like the sea. It was as though the lagoon, from which venice tentatively tries to escape immersion even on the best days, was coming inside, oppressive and enveloping. The work becomes linked by the common soundtrack of rain. Halls leek and buckets are placed in the their hallowed spaces out of necessity rather than art bringing the racing sound of drips - plink, plonk - competing to fill their receptacles fastest. The storm outside is alluring in its drama beyond walls and through windows. In the gardens themselves all the pathways have become torrents, the various pavilion buildings and their layers of modernist architecture become more akin to fountains, waterfalls, even. The environment seems to be returning to water, to nature. It is distracting to the extent that one looks away from the work compulsively to look outside. It seems to border on the apocalyptic in the way that even when one imagines the rain cannot come down any harder, it does.

I wrote this holed up in the nordic pavilion within which a modernist house of depravity has been created, the home of an author who has become obsessed with his sexual exploits. It has now become a refuge for the few hardy art pilgrims still working their way around the giardini, their dowdiness rubbing shoulders awkwardly with the debauchery on show. The noise is almost deafening and the pavilion is starting to flood badly. The invigilator is trying not to panic*, but the onslaught is relentless. Outside there is a swimming pool which is fast becoming a somewhat ironic gesture, it is overflowing and the whole giardini is a pool now. There was meant to be a dead body floating in the pool in an unlikely Michael Barrymore reference. It had been removed by the time I had arrived, probably to prevent it from floating away.

* I would like to note at this point that I have personal experience of the perils of invigilating at the Venice Biennale. A combination of a storm similar to the aforementioned and insufficient drainage caused our exhibition space, an old industrial building with drains in the floor, to flood with raw sewage. We had to wade through the water in order to rescue the mac and barricade the sculptures. Invigilators at the biennale are a breed unto themselves. They are usually student or recent graduate volunteers rather than professional invigilators (if such a thing exists) with few days off but free access to any alcohol left over from the lavish opening parties. Hence they have a rather devil may care attitude to the work in their care. They are certainly not to be ruffled by a bit of rain. The chap in the Israeli pavilion, which was filled with 5 inches of water at one point, sat through it still at his desk, casual as you like, reading a book with his feet up.


The only camera I had with me that day was a very out of date disposable. Due to the low light levels this was the only photo that came out, somehow managing to double expose. I like the graininess though.