Thursday, 10 December 2009

Into The Void

Sam Smith, Into the Void. Image TROVE

Into the Void
TROVE: Sunday 4th October 2009 6-9pm

In his first UK show, Sydney based artist Sam Smith is exhibiting his latest work Into The Void for its northern hemisphere premier. Having exhibited extensively throughout Australia as well as Japan, China, Thailand, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Spain and New Zealand, Smith’s work utilises the mechanics of cinematic production and special effects technologies to create parallel universes in which the ‘rational behaviour of matter is displaced by a realm of digital possibility.’

Installation view. Image TROVE

This exhibition is a culmination of great second cities. Smith, from Australia’s second city, has chosen Birmingham, England’s, to exhibit his new work, Into The Void (2009), a work that combines montage, multiple exposure and digital compositing to build a tangent narrative. Smith searches New York, America’s second city, for works of international Klein blue and a location that mirrors the site for Yves Klein’s Le Saut dans le Vide (The Leap into the Void, 1960). The artist’s journey culminates in a time- based recreation of Klein’s famous jump.

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Frieze 2009... who are they kidding..

Frieze Art Fair
Regents Park, London: October 15th- 18th, 2009

It would seem that I do not learn from my mistakes. Having been disappointed by the quality of last year’s Frieze Art Fair in London’s Regent’s Park, you would think that I would have the common sense not to return for a second helping the very next year. However, forever the artistic optimist, I hoped fervently that 2009 would be different, dare I say, better.

The day commenced positively enough with work by Axel Hutte, whose evocative photographs of natural landscapes sold exceptionally well at Basel and appeared to be just as successful here, Walead Beshty’s comical and clever Fedex installation pieces and Simon Evans ingenious Doubt Manifesto.

Axel Hutte

Then I stumbled across a pair of dirty and (had I leaned closer) no doubt smelly old socks on the floor and I realised I’d spoke too soon. Once again the art world appears to be taking the piss. I mean- seriously- what are we to glean from this? That laundry day has the prospective of becoming an installation artwork? Die- hard champions of the arts will protest that it’s ‘conceptual’ and you have to ‘look beyond what is simply there’- sorry but what’s there is a pair of dirty old socks- the concept being a lazy artist.

Walead Beshty

There appeared to be two distinct trends this year at Frieze- an abundance of photography and the use of old fashioned video projectors. Indeed, you could not turn a corner without hearing the buzz of a projector and it had the odd effect of creating a sense of nostalgia. While I enjoyed this display of original technology, after several hours circling the fair, the saturation became slightly tiresome.

Simon Evans

It never ceases to amaze me what artists, and indeed galleries, believe they can promote and attempt to sell as ‘art’. Yes, yes, we all know that art has no boundaries and is entirely subjective and open to individual interpretation- blah, blah, blah- I’ve done the degree, I’ve read the text books- I know all that. But five bricks piled in the centre of a stall- that’s it- nothing else around it- no other work in the space- what are we expected to think? Indeed, is this the point? By disrupting expectations of what art is are they effectively disrupting what it is we think we are expected to think? And let’s face it, as I left Frieze that day it was predominantly those works which I found to be ridiculous that occupied my thoughts and, as you can see, the majority of this piece.

While we may better appreciate and respect those works that we like, these are evidently not the works that challenge us. More often than not it is the work that you dislike the most, that you simply cannot get your head around, that is the most challenging and one could argue, the most successful as a piece of art. So while I left somewhat disappointed and, as a curator friend of mine professed, underwhelmed by the whole experience, I will no doubt be there again next year, primed to criticize and scorn. Clearly I do not learn from my mistakes- but perhaps that’s just as well.

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Margaret Street Grad Show 2009

Margaret Street Graduation Exhibition
Margaret Street: September 4th, 2009

Boasting a ‘diversity of practice’ and a ‘richness of work’ the Birmingham School of Art 2009 MA show had a lot to live up to. With 32 exhibiting students across 6 disciplines there was a general anticipation and probability of great things. Through the work of David Hurley, Michael Perrins, Valerie Howson and Tim Robottom this expectation was realised as their work embodied the skill and standard one comes to expect from an MA show.

David Hurley’s installation, found on the ground floor, explores the repetitiveness and numbing qualities of technology. Slightly haunting and eerie in nature, bodies inhabit the space with their heads replaced by televisions, projectors and record players. Creepiest of all is perhaps the baby in the crib, a miniature television screen as its head. As you step over the body strewn on the floor and gaze down into the static that is its face, the warning given to small children by their parent’s springs to mind- ‘If you sit any closer you’ll be in it’. Hurley’s work truly gives substance to these words.

David Hurley. Image Charlie Levine

Curatorily, the work of Michael Perrin is brilliant. A single light bulb hangs from the ceiling and is surrounded by photographs which are suspended. The subtle lighting reflects the subtle disintegration of the images as you walk around the work, highlighting themes of loss, memory and the slow dissolution of the past. There is an overwhelming sense of melancholy in Perrin’s work which encourages introverted reflection, however it could be argued that this is more as a result of the way in which the images are displayed than the actual images themselves.

Michael Perrin. Image Charlie Levine

Similarly, Valerie Howson’s work reflects on the photographic process as she produces images from a self made cardboard pin hole camera. Inspired by black and white film, Howson’s images challenge our perception and it is the defects and instability of the images that make them exceptional. Displayed in a makeshift archival research office, this is yet another example of how insightful curatorial practices have the capacity to enhance a work of art.

Tim Robottom’s practice, all at once comical and clever, never ceases to deliver. His large chess board with animals as chess pieces dominates the corner of one of the studio rooms. On one wall, almost invisible, is a hole in the wall. The viewer is invited to look and watch the artist playing chess with a naked woman. Despite first impressions, this is not a video; it is in fact a performance installation which the unobservant among us would walk past. Reflecting on the voyeuristic tendencies of human nature, Robottom is alluding to the work of Duchamp who, in the last 20 years of his life, moved away from art in favour of spending his days playing chess with naked women.

Tim Robottom. Image Charlie Levine

While it is evident that there was some exceptional works, on the whole I felt it just didn’t deliver. However, this is often true of most graduation exhibitions where there is such an intense pressure to perform. Therefore while my expectations may not have been met on this occasion, I left with a sense of hope for better things to come.
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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Handle With Care

Image Charlie Levine

Will Clifford
Conveyor: Sunday 2nd August 2009 4-8pm

It was the French philosopher
Jacques Derrida who coined the phrase deconstruction as referring to an approach (whether in philosophy, literature, or other fields) which rigorously pursues the meaning of a text to the point of undoing the oppositions on which it is apparently founded, and to the point of showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable or impossible.

It is here, caught as it were, between construction and deconstruction that Conveyor’s debut exhibition, Handle With Care, finds its home.

Over the course of four hours London- based artist Will Clifford and Conveyor’s Co-Founder Harminder Singh-Judge will construct and de-construct a house of cards within a furniture lorry. The lorry, a reference to the history of the space as an old furniture making factory, also supports the ethos of Conveyor as a vessel through which art can be transported and reinvented. Adopting an almost per formative scope, the house of cards will be continuously constructed and deconstructed. As time progresses and people enter and leave the lorry, they are invited to remove a piece from the house where Co-Founder and curator Charlie Levine, writer Naomi Gall and artist David Miller will brand the piece with a playing card and a ‘handle with care’ sticker.

Image Charlie Levine

It is the audience’s decision whether to become involved, disrupt the house of cards, or whether to leave and let the house remain constructed, complete. Whether to pursue to the point of undoing the oppositions on which it is founded or leave, content in simply being a voyeur. As time passes and more pieces are taken away, the house will become smaller and more difficult to reconstruct. Similar to a real house of cards there is a fragility to the work that is not immediately evident, as Clifford and Singh-Judge deconstruct and reconstruct on foundations that are irreducibly complex, unstable and quite possibly, impossible.

So as you leave today with your original, one of a kind, Will Clifford artwork remember the process you went through to get it and as the cards fall don’t forget to handle with care.
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Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Future, Conveyed

Image Charlie Levine

Birmingham, once referred to as the Industrial Heartland of Britain, is undergoing a major cultural renovation. The abundance of disused factories throughout the city, a tribute to its history, are being transformed into Artist Run Initiatives (ARI), effectively attempting to shed the cloak of industrialisation and bring Birmingham into a more artistically aware future. While it could be said that Birmingham boasts an underground but established art scene, the general population appear almost fearful of the arts and there is a real sense in Birmingham of apprehension and a reluctance to embrace it which isn’t as apparent in such places as London, or even Sydney. Perhaps that’s why I ended up here.

However, my timing couldn’t have been more unfortunate. As a Sydney- born, UK- based freelance art writer, the recent economic downturn has ensured the future is completely uncertain. Having graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 2007 I took my BA Art Theory (Honours) and MA Art Administration and moved to the UK. As someone whose primary reason for relocating overseas was to develop their career, as you can imagine the recession was like a slap in the face. Art, every variable facet of it, is such a temperamental and turbulent beast under the best of circumstances, but now with the ever present threat of poverty looming over my head like the blade of a guillotine, the future is not only ambiguous but absolutely terrifying. Along with Birmingham based freelance curator Charlie Levine and artists Harminder Singh Judge and David Miller, we have sought to defy the recession and take our futures into our own hands by establishing a new artist- run initiative- Conveyor. Having executed an exhibition in 2008 titled GOODS In within a section of an old furniture making factory outside the city centre, Co- Founders Levine and Singh Judge concluded that it would be the perfect home for their new collective. And so it is that Conveyor joins the independent and ongoing tradition of ARI in Birmingham.

Unlike Sydney where unused spaces are limited and often expensive, Birmingham is ripe with empty factories and warehouses as a result of its industrial past. While many of these spaces are monopolised by the rental market, numerous have been left abandoned and in most cases it is only a matter of knowing the right arm to twist and the right concept to pitch to acquire space for ‘one- off’ exhibitions.

Preparing for its first show, Conveyor is primarily about process and collaboration between artists, curators, writers and arts organisations and the development and continual realisation of one day art events and exhibitions. It is this focus on the one day event structure of the space that sets it apart from other ARI in Birmingham. With an exhibition program that is set to include Sydney- based video artists Sam Smith and Kate Mitchell, along with evocative artists from across the UK, Conveyor is undoubtedly bringing something fresh and innovative to the constantly evolving and slowly emerging art industry in Birmingham. While Levine, Singh Judge, Miller and I each joined this initiative with separate agendas, we are all united by one common goal- to promote exceptional national and international art and attempt to transform Birmingham into a more culturally aware city for the future.

Sitting down with Levine we discussed the recent economic downturn, Conveyor and why she’s determined to make her future, and the future of the city she calls home, a little more certain.

NG: Firstly can you just give a brief background to how you became involved in the arts?

CL: I began my career in art through my study of photography at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design (SIAD). It was through my studies and the influence of my lecturer David Campany that really led me to engage critically with not only photographs, but art in general. I became very preoccupied in my final BA year with the display of work and how one encounters them, from that and my research it made sense to move into curating and critical writing and I have never looked back.

NG: Do you think there is a trend emerging where curators are turning their backs on the established galleries and going freelance?

CL: Birmingham is a really interesting city when it comes to artists- led, curatorial- led, freelance-style practices. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing institutions that do give funding and there are some fantastic artist run practices that receive funding so it’s not all negative. There has always been a real culture of artist run initiatives in Birmingham and there has always been a want, a desire and a need for it. As a result of its solid history I think artist lead spaces are really welcomed by an arts audience. The main problem is sustainability and within the current climate this has become an even greater issue.

NG: Tell me about your new collective Conveyor.

CL: I would like to think that Conveyor is emerging out of that long history that I mentioned of artist run spaces in Birmingham and will become a part of that history. In 2008 I curated a show with artist Harminder Singh Judge, who is also the Co- Founder of Conveyor, called GOODS In. It was in an old furniture making factory in Moseley, just outside Birmingham’s city centre, called G. S Smart and Co. Factory. It was a one day event incorporating work from 15 international and UK based artists that responded to the space. This was my introduction to the space. Conveyor will inhabit about 1/8 of the entire space- it’s a huge building- and it will be sectioned off from the rest of the factory. It’s totally dishevelled, no one’s been in there for years and while the furniture is obviously no longer being produced it still lives in the space and will be used by the first two site specific artists who are scheduled to exhibit.

Basically we are trying to set up and realise a new artist run space that shows national and international artists. To an extent we want to continue the tradition of promoting Birmingham artists while reaching beyond the city. Birmingham is still growing- artistically speaking- and if Conveyor can assist in some degree to open people’s eyes to what’s out there then we’ve achieved something.

NG: What’s the plan for the first show?

CL: The first show will be site specific and a response to the space. We’ve invited a duo from Halifax in the UK, Milk, Two Sugars, to utilise whatever materials they are able to find within the space to make sculptural pieces that, in a sense, archive and critically comment on the history of the building. Milk, Two Sugars will bring a sense of comedy and unpredictability to the space as they are known for their illustrative work which always contains a satirical edge. There will also be a take away aspect to the show, which will remain secret until the exhibition day.

NG: How is Conveyor different to other artists run initiatives in Birmingham?

CL: For starters we are completely untouched by any type of formal ties or bonds. We are not affiliated with anybody, we receive no funding from anybody and therefore we have no agendas to adhere to except our own and the artists we choose to exhibit. Also, by promoting ourselves as an ‘events’ space there is more freedom to have a higher rotation of artists and we are capitalising on the buzz and excitement that generally accompanies the openings of exhibitions. If we can sustain this sense of intrigue around the space then it opens Conveyor up to innovative collaborative projects where there are basically no boundaries or limitations to the creative process. In this sense Conveyor is functioning on an entirely different level to other artist run initiatives in Birmingham.

NG: In your opinion is a gallery like Conveyor an asset to the Birmingham art scene?

CL: It’s a tremendously valuable asset, absolutely. Birmingham’s history has always relied on the artist run space so there’s no reason to stop now when there’s a proven formula that it works; it’s just a matter of keeping it sustainable. The thing with Birmingham is that you don’t want people to come to the city just to go shopping in the Bull Ring or to have a coffee at one of the 4 Starbucks that are in it. If that’s all they come here for they will leave poor and over- caffeinated! When you offer people in Birmingham something different and a little bit more unique they respond to it and want it but, like I said before, it’s just a question of sustainability. There is an audience out there for this type of initiative, we just have to find it.

NG: Do you think Conveyor has a future, given that at present it is entirely self- funded?

CL: Given that we are entirely self- funded it is difficult to think beyond one year at a time. We have an amazing line up of artists scheduled for this year, including some Australian artists, and if Conveyor is well received by the people of Birmingham I don’t see why it wouldn’t continue for a second year. The trap for us would be to think too far in advance. While presently the thing that sets Conveyor apart is the fact that it is entirely unaffiliated, we would not be completely opposed to joining forces with other arts organisations in the future or attempting to acquire funding but only as long as the integrity of the space was maintained otherwise what’s the point?

Conveyor will hold its opening exhibition June 6th 2009 with the UK artists Milk, Two Sugars

Article originally published by runway and The Invisble Inc. Issue 14: July 2009:

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Menagerie of Birds

Installation view, image Charlie Levine

Menagerie of Birds
Pitt Studios, Worcester: June 6th- 28th 2009

If you suffer from ornithophobia, that is, a fear of birds, then the latest exhibition at Pitt Studios in Worcester is not for you. Reminiscent of the well known Alfred Hitchcock film 'The Birds', Menagerie of Birds curated by emerging freelance curator Charlie Levine, brings together a collection of artists whose work encompasses thoughts of captivity, luxury and curiosity represented through the image of the bird.

Historically ‘Menagerie’ refers to the collection and captivity of exotic animals, with allusions to the establishment of luxury and curiosity. With Levine as the bird fancier, Menagerie incorporates a subtle sound piece by Stuart Tait, books by Annabel Dover, paintings by Michelle Munn, Caitlin Griffiths and Scott Robertson, a light drawing by David Miller, delicate cut outs by Claire Brewster, sculpture by Harminder Singh Judge and a text piece by Ana Benlloch. One thing is for sure, this exhibition is certainly eclectic.

For the final hour of the preview Alex Lockett and Ian England in collaboration with [insertspace] hosted a Pigeon Party as part of Project Pigeon. Lockett and England invited the public to ‘come and celebrate the pigeon, dance to pigeon songs, eat seed cake, drink whisky and meet the birds.’ Project Pigeon is an art, curatorial and education project with the artists keeping and racing pigeons, running workshops, holding open loft days, and exhibiting artworks carried by pigeons.

Brewster’s incredibly beautiful cut outs of birds, masterfully curated by Levine, appear to be almost attempting to escape the space. As they make their way up towards the light and high windows of the gallery we are left with a sense that they are captive, kept inside for the enjoyment of the audience.

The quirky nature of Robertson’s paintings of pigeons is only overshadowed by the quirky nature of his pricing system. With a ‘first come first served’ approach, the artist prices his work not by value but by who can get in the fastest. If you are lucky enough to be the first to purchase one of his works- whichever one that may be- it will cost you £5.73, the second £11.46 and so it continues until the seventh painting which is priced at £40.11. Unconventional perhaps, but it’s all part of the charming nature of the work and the eccentricity of the artist.

Caitlin Griffiths

The beauty of Griffiths work can be found in its conceptual foundations. Having produced and distributed questionnaires to the Director of Pitt Studios, his family and Levine, the artist produced intricate paintings of specific birds based on their answers. Each bird represents a person and it truly came as no surprise that Levine was the songbird, naturally. It is this inclusive and somewhat comical aspect of Griffiths work that makes it so evocative and with the elusive reference to similarities between man and animal, it could be argued that the nature of the artist’s work is quite Darwinesque.

Dreams of Flying, a text work by Ana Benlloch, takes the reader to another plane of thought and is arguably the closest you will ever come to being inside the mind of a bird. All at once fanciful and dark, Benlloch’s words adopt a sinister edge and we are afforded a glimpse into an otherwise unknown psyche. Leaving the reader with the slightest sense of desolation at its completion, Dreams of Flying effectively captures the imagination and takes you outside yourself.

Menagerie of Birds taken purely at face value, is a beautiful exhibition. However, if we look beyond simply what is there to the meaning underneath, we discover an exhibition that address issues of captivity, freedom and the innate curiosity man has for things that are caged. It is through the skill of the artists and the skill of the curator that such a topical exhibition can be presented in such a humorous context and yet still retain its poignancy.

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Saturday, 18 July 2009

Art Basel

June 10th-14th 2009
Messeplatz, Basel, Switzerland

Hailed as a resounding success by those in the know, the 2009 Basel Art Fair is a culmination of the crème-del-la-crème of the art world with galleries and dealers showing the very best they have to offer in an attempt to sell as much as possible to an unsuspecting arts audience. Only problem is, a large majority of those frequenting the art fair are not unsuspecting. On the contrary, the only thing to rival the status of the Warhol’s, the Lichtenstein’s and the Picasso’s is the status of those in the position to purchase one of them. This was made evident with the appearance of Brad Pitt on the VIP day to officially open the fair. With Pitt walking away with a Neo Rauch for just under $1m from Zwirner Gallery, the artistic equivalent of the meat market had officially begun.

It came as no surprise that galleries such as London’s White Cube didn’t disappoint with exceptional work from Andreas Gursky, Antony Gormley and Gibert & George. In particular, Gursky’s May Day V, 2006, was a hit with its depiction of an office building at night. Dubbed the ‘highest priced photographer alive’ by New York Magazine in 2007, Gursky’s May Day V is evidence of the photographer’s passion for ordered spaces and repetitive grids while inciting the voyeur within us all.
[i] With a smiling figure of Gursky himself on the sixth floor, it’s like a ‘Where’s Wally’ for adults.

Galerie Karsten Greve, St Moritz, had an impressive collection of Sally Mann photographs. Best known for her images of adolescents and the subsequent controversy these presented, her landscapes, while aesthetically beautiful, felt stale and lacked the depth of Mann’s previous work. While Virginia #38, 2004, Deep South #1, 2000 and Untitled (Fredericksburg #10), 2000 maintained the artist’s distinct style, the lack of any human presence ensured that the work, while impressive, failed to inspire.
With such a high intensity of art concentrated in one spot it comes as no surprise that amongst the exceptional art that is on display there were a few unexceptional pieces. Ever since Marcel Duchamp placed a male urinal in an art gallery, called it Fountain and subsequently elevated it as art, people have been pushing boundaries. Have we truly reached a point where artists are so starved for inspiration that a ball of hair on a plinth is now deemed art? Apparently so. When one unsuspecting art enthusiast, exhausted from the heat of the day, proceeded to turn on a pedestal fan, they were quickly informed that they had just obstructed a work of art. One cannot help but feel as if the art world is taking the piss.

Arguably Art Unlimited, located in Hall 1, is where business ends and real art begins. In its tenth year and with a tendency to reflect the current state of artistic practice, Art Unlimited specialises in large scale work and video installations.
American artist Matthew Day Jackson’s sculptural work Dymaxion Family, 2009, consists of four vertical wooden boxes within a darkened room. On closer inspection the viewer can discern an intricate assemblage of wood, metal, roots and luminous hardware in the form of human skeletons. Lit from underneath and lined with mirrors, the skeletons are viewed through two-way glass that effectively multiplies their form endlessly. All at once beautiful and slightly disturbing, Dymaxion Family investigates themes such as death, transcendence and purgatory, themes which are fundamental to Jackson’s work.

Public art is an integral element of Art Unlimited, with work being exhibited outside the boundaries of the main halls. Danish artist Jeppe Hein constructed Loop Bench, 2006, to be utilised as a functional form of seating for the public outside the entrance to Art Basel. Turning passive bystanders into willing participants is integral to the fluid piece, with the public encouraged to sit, stand, lie, lean, effectively transforming the work into a type of public forum.

Drawing crowds from around the world, Art Basel presents a benchmark of the standard and quality of work being created and exhibited today. It would seem as if the dark cloud of the recession has in no way hindered those in a position to purchase, with red dots lining the walls and New York art advisor Allan Schwartzman commenting “We are far enough into this new economic cycle that people are comfortable spending again.”
[ii] Let us hope that they do not invest in a ball of hair or a pedestal fan.

[i] It’s boring at the top, Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine, May 13th 2007.
[ii] Preview sales defy all expectations, Lindsay Pollock, The Art Newspaper, June 10th 2009.
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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Lost But Not Forgotten

Freedom Cabinet, David Miller

David Miller & Natalia Morris
Treasure Seekers VII
Birmingham School of Art: February 11th- 19th 2009

freedom . n. 1. the power or right to act, speak or think freely. 2. the state of being free.

Philosophers, dictators, politicians, writers and poets have sought to define it. That God- given right that every person is born with the opportunity to live free. For some this is not a struggle but for others it is something they fight for every day, this elusive, intangible thing that mankind strive to maintain and, ironically, control. What is it about the word ‘freedom’ that inspires men to rise up and nations to start wars? Artist David Miller explores this almost idealistic notion of freedom through his work The Freedom Cabinet, part of the exhibition Treasure Seekers VII at the Birmingham School of Art.

Curated by Charlie Levine and Kate Pennington- Wilson, Treasure Seekers VII invited local artists David Miller and Natalia Morris into the Birmingham School of Art Archives to create works which responded to what they uncovered and re- discovered.

Incorporating slides detailing quotes relating to freedom by such dignitaries as Freud, Kant and even Hitler, the casket inside the cabinet in Miller’s work was once the home of documents titled ‘The Freedom of the City’. The artist comments, “It struck me as ironic that the ‘freedom of the city’ had been so thoroughly held inside its own casket, and this again inside its own cabinet, and more ironic still that it was now lost, perhaps now actually free.”

Questioning this inherent need for freedom and the overwhelming desire to protect it encapsulates The Freedom Cabinet and forces us to re- evaluate pre- determined definitions and ideals. As part of the work Miller took photographs of the cabinet. Beautifully simplistic and compellingly evocative, it could be argued that this series of images are photographs of freedom. However, it is not the picture of freedom we are familiar with as an embodiment of a nation or a sect of people- it’s freedom as a concept, an intangible myth that cannot be owned, cannot be caged- it simply exists.

For Herbert, Natalia Morris

Natalia Morris’s expedition into the Archives produced an entirely different experience to that of Miller’s. Her video installation, For Herbert (Sir Herbert Manzoni), incorporates 3 Dimensional shapes that would have, at one stage, acted as models of study for Fine Arts students. Having since become antiquated, Morris subsequently brings them back to life while highlighting the architectural legacy of Birmingham.

Initially attracted to the simplicity of the shapes, Morris comments that “when arranged together, they appeared as microcosms for a metropolis.” As the camera guides us through the makeshift city scape, the haunting music invokes a sense of nostalgia and of things lost. For Herbert, as the title suggests, references the legacy of Sir Herbert Manzoni who was the City Engineer for Birmingham between 1935 and 1965. Influenced by the Swiss- French architect Le Corbusier, Manzoni’s vision of simplified, modern architecture was realised in the aftermath of WWII when numerous buildings throughout the city were reconstructed. Many opposed Manzoni’s idealism and actions were established to stop his modern envisage for Birmingham. For Herbert pays homage to this visionary whose buildings, much like the 3 Dimensional models gathering dust in the Archives, have been rendered obsolete.

Bringing to mind the age- old adage ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, Treasure Seekers VII effectively re- invigorates the Birmingham School of Art Archive, constructing new meaning to its collection. While Miller strives to comprehend our incessant pursuit of freedom and need to capture it, Morris reflects on the work of a man whose ideals were perhaps misunderstood during his lifetime. Through the poignant work of both artists we are reminded that every artefact has a past and if put in the hands of the right instigator, it has a chance at a future as well.

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The Artist Formerly Known As David

David Miller
The Death of David's Youth
Artist’s home: April 4th 2009

Never one to conform to pre- conceived ideas, it should have come as no surprise when Birmingham- based artist David Miller announced his intentions to host a wake to mourn the loss of his youth and the beginning of his thirtieth year.

Under strict instructions to wear black and arrive at 7.30pm, ‘mourners’ were greeted by Marcus Ascoti, aka artist Edward Wakefield, who proffered an order of service, complete with twelve verse hymn, and a glass of Black Velvet. Mourners were then directed into the parlour where they could converse, in appropriately hushed and respectful tones, with other funeral- goers whilst enjoying the almost Hawaiian- inspired background music. Perhaps it was the music, perhaps the large quantities of alcohol or perhaps just the simple fact that Miller is in fact not dead, but the mood is conspicuously chipper.

At 8pm sharp a bell tolls ominously and the mourners are escorted into a rather pokey, dimly- lit room that is dominated by a coffin and an imposing figure reminiscent of the grim reaper. While one assumes this sinister figure is the artist formerly known as David Miller, there is an unnerving air within this tomb- like room that gives birth to uncertainty. As the service commences and the hymn is sung, something quite uncanny occurs: suddenly smirks fade from faces and muffled laughter that initially filled the room turns to silent reflection. Whether affected by the sheer stillness of the room or just overcome by the sense of grief that inhabits every darkened corner, is ultimately unclear. However, what is abundantly evident is the expression of quiet contemplation that sweeps round the room like an evening breeze.
As ‘the reaper’ begins to process photographs in the solution contained within the coffin we are afforded a glimpse into the life of David Miller and like his life, the photographs shine bright and clear only to fade to darkness a minute later, their time tragically cut short. As several mourners step forward to gain a closer look at the imagery inside the coffin a soft but very audible sob can be heard. Affected by the ‘funeral’ perhaps more than they anticipated, people actually become immersed in the poetic melancholy of the performance. The photographs, fifteen snapshots from every other year of the artist’s life since birth, depict Miller as a child, an adolescent, a man and the people who were a part of his life, friends, family and lovers. We are reminded that often it is those who pass in and out of our lives that make the journey worthwhile, these are the people who complete the photograph.

At its conclusion people are lead back into the parlour where the air of reflection and sadness is palpable. What arguably began as a satirical mode in which to commemorate a birthday surprisingly transformed into a serious and poignant reflection on mortality and the very real notion of loss and desolation. While exploring his own issues with the ageing process, Miller effectively touched a place within all of us that, whether we are aware of it or not, fears death and the things that are inevitably left unsaid.
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Gane vs Iddon

Alternative Suns, Jo Gane

Jo Gane & Henry Iddon
Gane vs Iddon
Three White Walls: January 31st – March 2nd 2009

Climbing fences, conversing with eccentric locals and stained fingers are all part of a days work for photographer Jo Gane whose series, Alternative Suns, is currently showing in collaboration with the work of photographer Henry Iddon in Gane vs Iddon at Three White Walls in Birmingham.

Gane, who adopts traditional methods of practice, spent numerous evenings camped in fields and rural areas around her home town of Corley, outside Coventry, capturing the ever fading light and re- living the source of most of her childhood memories. Realising that nothing appeared as she had remembered, Gane comments “I used night time to mask the unfamiliarity within the landscape and to camouflage the things I could not remember.”

It’s this fusion of the familiar and the unfamiliar that embodies Gane’s work and transformed her practice into an entirely visceral experience as the artist spent hours in each location surrounded by the sights and sounds of her past. Using slide film and a large format field camera, the long exposure time, according to Gane, “allowed the light to spread and show itself in a completely contrasting way.” With ambiguous references to the consequences of pollution, there are conspicuously very few stars present in the darkened sky. Once used as a means of navigation, the absence of stars in Gane’s photographs serves as a reminder that technological advancement often causes traditional practices to become obsolete.

Adapted during a period in the artist’s life where she was torn between the suburban life she’d always known and the allure of city living, Gane interprets the light in her photographs as “forming a barrier between the urban and the rural landscapes.” Here we uncover the central theme of Gane vs Iddon- that age old struggle between the beauty of nature and the ever expanding metropolis. This separation between human habitation and the environment is also evident in the photographic work of Henry Iddon, whose evocative images of the Lake District present a striking contrast to Gane’s photographs.

Finding inspiration in Wordsworth and the Romantics, Iddon comments, “I was seeking to look at the Lake District in a new way, a way that hadn’t been done before.” With the intention of photographing the entire region, the artist would walk the hills by moonlight before camping on a summit and walking down in the morning. Through the series Spots of Time Iddon effectively captures the sublime qualities of the area, reminding us that while society will continue to construct and expand, nothing compares to the limitless natural beauty of the landscape.

Arguably more strategic and documentary than Gane’s work, Spots of Time presents the vastness and the unpredictability of nature while unveiling the Lake District in such a way that would not have previously been seen by the twelve million people who visit the region each year. Essentially this is the core thread that connects the work of these two artists- their ability to encapsulate an aspect of the landscape that previously was unseen and would not be possible without the skill of the camera and the person who wields it.

While it could be said that Gane’s work is more intimate, being centred on locations relating to her childhood, Iddon also embodies a degree of familiarity by capturing one of the most well known attractions in Britain. Even those acquainted with the Lake District will uncover new depths to the region only made possible through Iddon’s photographs. Both artists explore aspects of light and dark, of things being hidden and revealed and the sheer magnitude of the landscape.

On first viewing Gane vs Iddon one would be forgiven for thinking it was simply an exhibition of contrasting imagery and homage to the allure of the landscape. However, upon closer inspection it becomes evident that these two artists perhaps have far more in common than initially thought and like any good relationship; it is their distinct differences that make this exhibition a success.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Dystopian Britain or harsh reality?

Britania Model Village, Ben Bucki
Ben Bucki
Britannia Model Village Project
Three White Walls: January 8th- 20th 2009

Reading like the script of a Steven Spielberg thriller, Britain is struck down by a catastrophe of world proportions and has been reborn under a new, oppressive regime as ‘Britannia’, a place where suspicion is a part of everyday life and everyone’s a potential terrorist. The year is 2013 and the master mind behind this dystopia is artist Ben Bucki.

Expanding upon a project Bucki began whilst at University in Carlisle, Britannia Model Village at Three White Walls presents model villages constructed and photographed to depict an uncertain view of the future of Britain. The basis of the work originates from a photograph of an old model village in the south of Britain with a miniature rotund village bobby in the corner, a jolly smile on his face. Bucki was fascinated by this depiction of a “policeman with no crime to fight in his perfect little utopia” and concluded it would be more interesting if “the bobby was wearing a stab vest and carrying an automatic rifle, watching passing citizens like a hawk whilst his riot van is parked menacingly nearby.” With this contrast forming the basis of the project, Britannia Model Village was born. Gone is the depiction of Britain as a happy land of thatched cottages and a cosy, sheltered existence and in its place is ‘Britannia’, where censorship and oppression are the norm and children are encouraged to report their parents to legal authorities in return for a teddy bear. It is evident that while political and perhaps intentionally controversial, Bucki’s work is clearly satirical which, according to the artist, makes his message “easier to digest, I don’t think people would pay it half as much attention if it was shown with a straight face.”

Each of the photographs depicts a scene constructed from the model village Bucki has created. These images are accompanied by text that explains aspects of the new ‘Britannia’ regime. One such image is Suicide Scheme where we are informed that ‘despite the best efforts of the Government’ if citizens felt the need to ‘end it all’ could they please do so at ‘specially designated sites’. The photograph shows a ‘man’ leaping off a platform into the ocean, all under the watchful eye of health officials. However, arguably the most uncomfortable work is the aptly named Terrorism where we see an explosion blowing out the side of a building. Perhaps what makes this work so unnerving is its relevance within present society, a society where the word ‘terrorism’ is never far from a news headline and people are all too quick to form judgements. With the accompanying text berating those ‘minorities in our population who do not recognise the benefits of their caring, protective Britannia Government’ and criticising their ‘misguided beliefs’, one cannot help but feel uneasy and perhaps slightly apprehensive that this degree of ignorance may be where society is headed.

The propaganda posters that line the walls of the gallery, forming part of Britannia Model Village, are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the efforts of Goseph Gobbels, Minister of Propaganda. This is also reflected in the work Art of the State which explains how all photography, painting and sculpture must convey content that is ‘censored and approved by the Government’. This work effectively reminds the viewer that we learn from the past to ensure that better choices are made for the future and to prevent mistakes from being repeated. Britannia Model Village acts as a warning and demonstrates just how close society is to repeating itself and the ignorant choices of our predecessors.

Naming Jake and Dino Chapman as a major influence in his work, Bucki hopes that audiences will find his Orwellian portrayal of Britain thought provoking and encourage them to consider the issue of “how our society is changing, how our liberties are slowly being eroded and how we seem to be sowing the seeds for a future with a more totalitarian Government.” Britannia Model Village prompts the viewer to question their society, authority and perhaps most significantly Bucki’s work forces people to question themselves, what they believe and how they view the world. However, the works obvious satirical element makes this process of self- evaluation much easier to accomplish. As Bucki comments, “If it does make people think a bit more about the world around them then it can only be a good thing.”

Britannia Model Village leaves an uneasiness with its audience- like the uncomfortable laugh that accompanies a joke you just don’t get- except this time not only do we understand the joke, it is unfortunately all too familiar.

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The China Trend

Totem Recollection, Tian Taiquan

Tian Taiquan
Tears of Eros
Three White Walls: November 20th- January 6th 2009

Something is shifting within the art industry in Birmingham. Over the last year we have witnessed an emergence of exceptional and innovative contemporary art originating from China. While in the past there may have been a tendency to associate art from the Asia Pacific with cheap copies and replicas, outstanding artists such as Tian Taiquan, whose first solo exhibition in the UK is currently showing at Birmingham’s Three White Walls, is effectively changing public opinion. Organisations such as Dr Catherine Raines Li Kailin are spearheading this change through the promotion of emerging artists from China, whose work is stunning audiences all over the UK with its skill and evocative connotations. This rise to prominence of art from the Asia Pacific has been gaining momentum throughout the last decade with exhibitions of remarkable work evident in galleries across the UK.

While contemporary Chinese fine art is about as far removed from pharmaceuticals as you could possibly get, for Birmingham born Raines, whose organisation Li Kailin promotes emerging contemporary Chinese artists and brings their work to the UK, it was a natural progression. By any stretch of the imagination Raines has had what most would label a very successful career, studying pharmacy, completing a PhD and ultimately working for a 26 billion dollar global pharmaceutical company. Her position saw Raines and her family travel all over the world from the United States to Sweden and ultimately to China.

While in China Raines realised her eternal love of art had not been stifled and seemingly overnight she made the decision to follow her dream. In less than three months Li Kailin was formed. Laughing herself at the speed with which her organisation came into being, Raines often jokes with people and calls it a mid- life crisis, however she explains, “it wasn’t a crisis- quite the contrary- it was something I really wanted to do and felt very passionate about.” While in China Raines came into contact with the visually arresting photographic work of Chongquing born artist Tian Taiquan at an art gallery in Shanghai. After negotiations with the gallery Director, now a business partner, and the artist himself, it was decided that Raines would organise Taiquan’s first solo exhibition in the UK, she comments, “instead of saying this is what I’d like to do, I began saying this is what I will do.”

Returning to the UK, Raines participated in the 2008 Manchester Art Fair at Urbis. By its conclusion she had been approached by four separate galleries who offered her exhibition space for her artists. One of these galleries was Three White Walls in Birmingham’s Mailbox who’s Director, Terence McDermott, identified the work as art that would enhance the already materializing art scene in Birmingham, commenting, “Taiquan’s work examines and critically comments on China’s past while revealing a certain hope for the future. It’s reflective of the high quality of art being produced in China and that is emerging across Birmingham. To be the first gallery in the UK to exhibit his work is remarkable. ”

Taiquan’s Tears of Eros officially opened at Three White Walls on November 20th 2008, as Raines comments, “When I think of all we’ve achieved it’s difficult to believe Tears of Eros opened just ten weeks after I’d returned to the UK from China.” Indeed, it is overwhelming to think that in just ten weeks Raines had launched a successful, international organisation, Li Kailin, participated in the Manchester Art Fair, sold into both public and private collections and mounted Taiquain’s debut UK exhibition, one can’t help but question- what’s next? Raines insists she is taking everything one day at a time. While it may appear as if all this has happened post- haste, it would be a mistake to presume that she hasn’t looked before she leaped. “It has taken me years to decide to do this but once I decided- that was it- and it’s progressed incredibly fast.” Essentially Raines aims to promote extraordinary contemporary Chinese fine art and to encourage new collectors. “I think there are a lot of people who would like to collect art but they’re reluctant as there is often perceived to be a wall of pretension surrounding art- I want to eliminate this obstacle.”

Taiquan’s Tears of Eros at Three White Walls may very well be the first step in achieving this outcome. Visually stunning and conceptually evocative, Taiquan’s digitally manipulated, Ltd Edition C- print photographs are centred around the atrocities that occurred with the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1960s and 70s. Taiquan would have been seven at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, his youth inextricably defined by this period. The Revolution under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong saw the complete repression of an entire civilisation which included the censorship of art, music and dancing of any kind. Many traditional customs, such as fortune telling, paper art and feng shui were completely destroyed and the Red Guard was established to brutally enforce Mao’s policies.

Lost No. 17 (2008) displays an intense vulnerability. The figure of a woman dressed in Red Guard uniform, a theme which is continued throughout all his photographs, lies back on a gravestone, her arms outstretched. Situated in Chongquing, in what is believed to be the only preserved Red Guards’ graveyard in China, the figures head is thrown back revealing eyes that have been pixilated out by the artist, emphasising that she is faceless, nameless and disappearing, much like the culture she represents. With her arms open, it is as if the woman is offering herself up to something or someone, perhaps to the inevitability of China’s fading values. The figure’s hair falls in two braids either side of her head, giving the impression of youth, innocence and naivety and clutched in the woman’s left hand is a small, red book. This book represents the thoughts and teachings of Chairman Mao of which around nine hundred million copies were published during the Cultural Revolution. If a civilian was caught without a copy they risked being severely punished or imprisoned by the Red Guard. Essentially this document dictated the way in which people were expected to think and behave and defined every aspect of their lives according to Chairman Mao’s regime. This image is present in several of Taiquan’s prints and it could be argued that it effectively serves as a constant reminder of the restrictions that were enforced on the Chinese people during this period.

This is also apparent in Totem Recollection No. 04 (2008) which is arguably the most powerful work in the exhibition and possibly the most controversial. Submerged in a sea of red Chairman Mao badges, widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution, is the body of a naked woman. In her left hand is the red book of Chairman Mao’s teachings, his likeness completely covering her face. Similar to Lost No. 17 the figure’s face is disappearing, this time under the heavy weight of Chairman Mao’s regime. The woman’s breasts and genitals are displayed, omitting a sublime sexuality that would have been condemned during the Revolution. It could be said that Taiquan’s provocative work embodies a sense of rebellion as the figure refuses to become submerged and restricted by the restraints of the past. While acknowledging and reflecting upon this past through the display of hundreds of red Chairman Mao badges, Totem Recollection presents a sense of hope for the future through the freedom of the figures nudity. As the title suggests, during the Cultural Revolution Chairman Mao’s likeness was represented as a type of totem, an emblem believed by a society to adopt spiritual meaning and this work serves as a recollection of this period in history and what it represents for the people of China.

Tears of Eros at Three White Walls could be seen to symbolise a growing trend throughout the UK towards contemporary Chinese art. While the progression of Chinese art to western audiences has been slow, the last decade has seen art from the Asia Pacific gradually infiltrating the art industry in the UK through such exhibitions as The Real Thing, Tate Liverpool, 2007, China Design Now, V & A, 2008 and The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art, Saatchi Gallery, 2008. However it could be argued that it is in the last year that Birmingham in particular has witnessed the emergence of exceptional contemporary Chinese art with more prominence. In October 2008 the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery launched Beijing Map Games to coincide with the Olympic Games and the China Now Festival. Birmingham was the first city in the world, following Beijing, to show this exhibition which contained newly commissioned artworks inspired by the rapid changes that were influencing the appearance of Beijing city. This served as an addition to the already installed Aspects of China which is the first display of Chinese art to appear in the permanent collection. Both exhibits will be on show until January 2009.

Moving beyond the art gallery, the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design hosts the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA) which aims to foster new perspectives of both practical and theoretical studies of Chinese visual arts in an international context. Organisations such as the CCVA and Raines Li Kailin serve to lend a degree of permanency to this rising shift within the visual arts in the UK, proving that Contemporary Chinese art is not simply a passing trend. With the current showing of Taiquan’s work at Three White Walls and upcoming exhibitions of outstanding art from China at the IKON Gallery, it is evident that the prominence of Chinese art in Birmingham has no intention of slowing down and is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

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Incredulous Creed

Martin Creed
IKON Gallery: September 24th- November 16th 2008

I must confess that when I walked into the Martin Creed exhibition at the IKON Gallery in Birmingham’s Brindley Place, the last thing I expected to see was a giant penis. For a second I forgot the golden rule of contemporary art: expect the unexpected. Perhaps assuming Work No 730 (2007) was commandeered entirely for shock value is doing the work an injustice. However, orchestrating the exhibition so that it is the first work that you see cannot be overlooked as a strategic move. By exposing a very private act into the very public domain of the gallery Creed effectively subverts many preconceived ideas about contemporary art. I became increasingly uncomfortable as I watched the work, seemingly unsettled in my new position as voyeur.

Living and working in London, Creed’s artistic practice has often been labelled as minimalist and systematic. True to form, Work No 126: a sheet of paper crumpled into a ball (2003) is just that- minimalist, elusive and ambiguous. Are we expected to wonder what is concealed within the confines of this crumpled ball? If unravelled what dark secrets would it reveal? Or are we reading too much into it. Is it simply a piece of rubbish, discarded and elevated to the status of artwork through its mere presence in an art gallery? But perhaps this is too cynical, after all if Marcel Duchamp can place a male urinal in a gallery and call it art, than who am I to judge? It is perhaps important to remember that in contemporary art the boundaries between the good the bad and the ugly are often ambivalent.

This survey of Creed’s work incorporates a wide variety of mediums from film, sculpture and sound to painting and drawing. While the artist’s practice is undoubtedly diverse, it could be said to be characterised by a deceptive simplicity. One cannot help but think there is more to Creed’s work than what is simply seen.

Work No 890: Don't Worry

Work No 890: Don’t Worry (2008) glowed like a beacon in a sea of ambiguity. The bright yellow neon words ‘Don’t Worry’, installed high upon the gallery wall, brought to mind the Bobby McFerrin 1988 hit ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ and the use of yellow omitted an overwhelming and uncanny sense of wellbeing . As I gaze up at the work, it was as if Creed himself was offering reassurance and perhaps making a statement about the state of a world consumed by worry and strife. When you consider how often this simple phrase is spoken to no avail- perhaps it should have been said with a neon sign.

Seemingly an exploration of interactivity, Work No 837 (2007) is a video installation across four monitors. Various individuals appear in rooms with white walls and floors and proceed to vomit continuously. There is no relief for these unknown individuals as they take a breath only to vomit once more. While the visual component of this piece is, in itself, unpleasant, it might have been made bearable had there been no sound. Listening to four people vomiting continuously is enough to upset even the strongest of stomachs and one can only imagine that it is this physical response to the very basic of human behaviours that the artist was aiming for. This visceral work is disturbing in its raw honesty and, similar to Work No 730, it exposes an often private act into the public arena.

Work No 837

While my feelings regarding this exhibition are mixed I am certain of one thing. Any exhibition that can make you feel such extremes, from disgust to a sense of wellbeing, deserves a degree of praise and is well worth a second look.

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Frozen at Frieze

Frieze Art Fair
Regents Park, London: October 16th – 19th 2008

It’s as if contemporary art has thrown- up on Regents Park in London. Frieze Art Fair is the artistic equivalent of bulimia with works from over 150 galleries throughout the UK and Europe amalgamating in a semblance of organised chaos. Currently in its 6th year, Frieze promotes itself as one of the major international hubs for the contemporary art world and is the only fair to commission works by artists. As I join the growing queue, ticket in hand, the sound of running water invades my thoughts. This otherwise tranquil sound, created by the artist Pavel Búlchelar, comes as an unwelcome surprise to someone who consumed five cups of coffee this morning. However, it does indicate that the weather is fine here is Regents Park, had it been raining outside the sound of birds would have been heard instead, evidence that the world of reality is being left behind as I cross the threshold into the ‘art world’.

It could be argued that the most interesting aspect of Frieze has nothing to do with the art and everything to do with the people who love (or hate) it. It would appear as if every aspiring artist, art enthusiast and budding gallerist has come to Regents Park today and I would estimate that at least half of them are sporting the stereotypical uniform of the eccentric art lover- thick framed glasses, beret and of course black, lots and lots of black. Armed with a camera, pen and paper, with only water and gummi bears to sustain me, I make my way round the enormous makeshift tent waiting to be inspired. Now, this being my first Frieze, perhaps my expectations were a little ambitious. Undoubtedly there is some outstanding work here, Elaine Sturtevant, Norma Jeane and Jeremy Deller and there is some not-so-outstanding work, Nobuyoshi Araki, and then there are the usual suspects, Andy Warhol, Tracy Emin and Cindy Sherman. It’s not that I dislike Warhol’s work, but when gallery’s use his distinctive and distinguishable style to attract an audience, it’s like unwrapping a chocolate but receiving a minty- it’s not what you were expecting and definitely not what you wanted.

While on the subject of lollies, Elaine Sturtevant’s (Anthony Reynolds Gallery) installation utilises hundreds of them wrapped in bright blue cellophane and placed on a sectioned- off floor space. Gonzalez Torres Untitled (Blue Placebo), relies completely on audience participation as people are encouraged to take the sweets, creating a sense of misconduct and mischief. Sturtevant’s work could almost be viewed as a study in human behaviour as I find myself observing others before selecting a piece myself. A few particularly hungry participants proceed to devour the candy immediately, leaving their wrappers nonchalantly on the floor to become, incidentally, part of the artwork.

It appears as if interactivity and performance make up a substantial part of Frieze, to the extent that the lines between reality and the art world are considerably ambiguous. The Spanish artist Dora Garcia embodies this through Los Romeos, a project based on the activities of East German spies who preyed on the lonely West German secretaries during the Cold War. Los Romeos takes the form of a group of handsome strangers who circulate the Fair, engaging with anyone who takes their fancy. From gallerists and curators to art students and artists- no one is safe from the charms of these unknown Don Juans. With the aim of generating a sense of permanent suspicion, Garcia’s project ensures that every chance encounter will not go unnoticed. Even with this increased possibility of a romantic rendezvous, the only person who approaches me is a woman distributing sheets of pink paper which I automatically fold and place in my bag. It’s not until later that I read what was handed to me and discover a compelling letter pleading for understanding. It feels as if I have walked in on an emotional outpouring and in my hands is a letter I was never meant to read. Such raw honesty seemed completely out of place in the fake and falsity of Frieze and it raised several questions- who wrote this and what is its purpose?

The Straight Story, Norma Jeane

As I reflect on this incongruous occurrence, I turn yet another corner and realise I’ve been here before. This is possibly the most frustrating aspect of Frieze, despite the abundance of maps and clear signage, getting disorientated is simply an incidental part of the day. I find myself once more at the performance- based installation The Straight Story by the artist known as Norma Jeane. Three clear booths are constructed as a place where smokers can sit, have a glass of water from the coolers provided, and smoke without leaving the Fair. People consent to participate in the performance, essentially making a public display of a private vice. There is something incredibly voyeuristic about The Straight Story and while the act of smoking is condemned as an addiction, here it is permitted in the name of art.

Speaking of things that should be condemned, the photographic work Bondages by Nobuyoshi Araki (Jablonka Galleries) appears to be following the age-old theory that gratuitous nudity equals shock value and is therefore good art. Sexual activist or glorified pornography- it’s a fine line- one that I would argue has been done to death.

Alternatively, Jeremy Deller (Art: Concept Paris) plays heavily on irony in the work The War on Terror 2008, which incorporates photographic images of various versions of public signage that essentially conveys the general message of ‘don’t leave your bike here’. Deller’s art is often described as ‘relational’, with an artistic practice that is layered and democratic.As I begin to make my way toward the exit I pass a large group of art students talking animatedly about a particular work. I am reminded of the conversation I overheard between two young girls as I waited in line this morning. As they discussed the day ahead one comments, “We should just go up to artworks and be all blah, blah, blah and totally pretend we know what we’re talking about.” In the end isn’t that what most of us are doing with contemporary art. And Frieze is no exception.

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