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24 October 2011

The Museum of Museums

In Taunton, 'The Museum of Somerset' (previously Taunton Museum) has just re-opened after a 6.93 Million re-development. In Bristol 'The Industrial museum' has been revamped into what is now called 'The M Shed' and in Bath The Holburne museum (see fifth image below) has also had a massive 13.8 million pound transformation in the form of a glass extension to added onto the original building. With all of these re-vamped and modernised re-openings of museums in the South West as well as the exhibition titled, 'The Museum Show' now open at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol it definitely feels like museums really are 'the flavour of the month'. Two weekends ago I popped down to the Arnolfini to find out if this was the case...

Featuring the work of over 40 artists this is no small show and to my delight included some old favourites and some fantastic new ones. I was not disappointed. Susan Hiller's 'After the Freud Museum', Duchamp's 'Boite-en-Valise' (the retrospective of the artists work in a suitcase) and Peter Blake's 'A Museum for Myself' are three museum inspired pieces on show in this exhibition that I have previously seen before, however it was fantastic to see them again without having to have made the pilgrimage to London and in the context of a show of museum inspired art. What is quite unusual about an exhibition of museum inspired work is the context, i.e normally a lot of the work on show in this exhibition would be in an actual museum where as here you have almost the opposite. The element of surprise of seeing work by an artist in a museum is part of the point of using the museum as a context to make work and play with interpretation. In the Arnolfini show having all of those museum inspired art works in an 'art context' of the gallery brings the viewers attention to the work in a different way again or as the Arnolfini describes the show as, 'a museum of museums'.

The museums on offer include: 'The Museum of Failure' by Ellen Harvey, 'The Museum of Safety Gear for Small Animals by Bill Burns (which I recommend you looking at the website for, The Davis Museum (a.k.a the smallest contemporary art museum in the world), 'Museum of Contemporary African Art' by Meschac Gaba, 'Moon Museum' (which sees the first-and most smallest works of art to land on the moon)by Forrest Myers, 'Voting Booth Museum' by Guillaume Biji (proves you can learn so much about a countries politics from the style of their voting booths) and 'The Museum of personality testing' by Sina Najafti and Christopher Turner to name but a few! It really is a mix of the ridiculous and the sublime.

A personal highlight for me was Herbet Distel's 'The Museum of Drawers' which holds 500 miniature artworks collected during the 1960's and 70's. Yes! So we have, David Hockey, Andy Warhol, Sol Lewitt, Joesph Beuys, John Cage, Claes Oldenburg, George Rickey, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine and many many more all in little 2.25" wide and 1 11/16" high spaces within 20 drawers. Looking at the collection and the list for ages all I could think was how many cool artists were there in the 60's and 70's! And on a serious note the idea of drawers and collections in art generally is something that appeals to me as a person, maybe because I naturally without trying seem to collect lots of books and strange what can only politely be described as 'bits of tat', but whatever the reasons I thought this work was great.

On a completely different tone, the 'World Agriculture Museum' shown off site as part of the Arnolfini exhibition, is a much more global and thought provoking affair. The museum, curated by Asuncion Molinios', is set in what was previously Bristol Police Station. Inside the museum feels more like a theatre or stage-set in the way it is quite dimly lit and in the empty and dusty space which is quite haunting and creepy (its a creepy old police station not a smart shiny new one) there are cases of hundreds of different seeds and information on the doomsday vault in the North Pole (supposedly that contains seeds from all plant life on Earth). Anyway, it is an interesting collection and touches upon ideas in agriculture from food production to folklore. With news stories of the world's rapidly increasing population over the last few years which is set to rise even higher; all of which will put greater pressure and need on food production and how we grow food, this whole piece feels incredibly topical as well.

Whether we have museums being used in art or having art in museums are two ways in which these artists have used the concept of 'The Museum' in their work. There are many more variations of this all throughout art history and the history of how we collect, curate and display art works, artifacts and history and anthropology. It is, however, very exciting to see how artists take the museum as an institution and use it, parody it or interpret it in different ways of which this exhibition represents that diversity of what can be done with museums in a very successful way.

This is only part one of what is a two part exhibition (the second part to come in December) so I really recommend you paying this a visit.
For more details visit:

I think my own recent bias (see image above of one of my pieces of work influenced by museum collections) working with the collection of agricultural tools at The Somerset Heritage Centre could have had a distinct influence in my interest in writing this post.
But, I'm not alone in this either, Jon England (see image below) has also worked with a museum, 'The Fleet Air Arm Museum' in Yeovilton on his recent project, 'Operation Chameleon' which can be seen until December. I have written on this blog before about what I believe to be just some of the benefits of an artist working with a museum and how the presentation of that research can make certain artifacts in museums collections more accessible to the public or present new interpretations of existing collections to new audiences.

(below) The Holburne Musuem, Bath

Finally, if you are still not convinced that museums are 'where its at' then look no further than the also very recent exhibition by Grayson Perry in The British Museum, 'The tomb of the unknown craftsman' (image below) where the artist has made his distinctive styled work in the form of ceramics and tapestries and then looked to the museum collection to find pieces that are similar, or in the artists own words, 'All I could do was choose the things that fascinated and delighted me.' The result is an exhibition that combines the two old and new side by side. Perry is no stranger to working with museums and has used artifacts alongside his own collections before in the piece 'Charms of Linconshire'. I've yet to visit this exhibition and I think it goes without saying that I'm obviously going to visit it soon, but I wanted to share it with you here as it fits so well with this post. Some of Perry's observations I've read in news articles that talk about his experiences working with museums and their curators has been particularly poignant for me recalling my own experiences working with the curators in the Somerset Heritage Centre. He says, 'Curators seemed to like nothing better than showing off the treasures in their care. Their profound enthusiasm I found infectious and endearing.' So true. As you walk around these massive and often quite cold 'warehouse-like' storage spaces where all the artifacts are boxed and catalogued, there is nothing better than to be in those spaces than with someone who knows exactly where to find the thatcher's whimbrel you're looking for, or the collection of gloves maker's tools and then can tell you all about those things. It really is wonderful and that's coming from, me, someone who never studied or really liked history.

So, with lots of attention on all these newly opened museums there's a lot of opportunity to discover and re-discover some remarkable objects, people and stories. Museums don't necessarily always hold the truth, with a lot of theorists believing that history has always been a matter or interpretation and who has been doing the interpreting. This leads the way nicely for artists to make their own interpretations or accept existing ones and how we may then choose to use that knowledge in our own work or to say something about our own time.

That is where things start to get really exciting.

For more details on 'The Tomb of the unknown Craftsman' click on the link below:

20 October 2011

Join us tomorrow for the BIG Draw!

Hi, I haven't abandoned you, dear SAW blog. I've merely been out visiting exhibitions (details of that coming to a post on here soon) and preparing my canvas for the Big Draw: 'Street Carpets' event happening in the High Street tomorrow and Saturday. Yes, this is an unashamedly blunt plug, but if there's a better way of letting lots of people know about it at short notice then I'd like to know how, besides you'd enjoy it if you chose to come along and take part! Its going to be fun!

Look out for artists in red tomorrow and Saturday! We'll be in Taunton's High Street with four different fun activities for you to try.
There's a digital photography projection piece to be involved in making, two different drawing activities and a weaving activity with lengths of coloured tape as well.
All of the work is for the Big Draw 2011 but in Taunton we are also specifically using the opportunity to collect your ideas, thoughts, memories and experiences of the High Street. The responses we collect in the form of drawings, words, text, photos etc. will then be used as a creative resource to help inspire and provide input into the architects new designs for the High Street when it is re-developed.
We'll be there from 11.00 to 2.30pm tomorrow and Saturday! We'd love to see you.

All are welcome to come and draw on my map of the High Street! Pens provided, just bring yourselves!
You know you want to, why else would you be reading the SAW blog unless you were interested in something arty?

More details can be found on:

10 October 2011

British Art Show comes to Plymouth!

The first six British Art Shows really passed me by (understandable when you take into account that the first two happened before I was born) in fact I hadn't really heard of BAS at all until this year. So, when British Art Show 7 literally came to town there was no way I would be missing it this time round!

Here's the info: "Held every five years across four cities nationwide, British Art Show comes to Plymouth for the first time in the city's history. British Art Show 7: In the days of the comet features work by 39 artists and artists' groups working in the UK today. It is exhibited across five venues -Peninsula Arts : Plymouth University, Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth College of Art Gallery and the Slaughter House: Royal William Yard"

Brilliant! And as I am down in Plymouth at least once a week studying for my MA it has been pretty convenient to go and see all the art on offer which is all mostly in walking distance near each other....except for the Slaughter House (which is walkable but only if you like a thirty minute power walk, for those of you that don't its very easy to get a bus there). Any who, the show as a whole, for me, was one that got better with age. I've made it my mission to go visit the exhibitions in their venues more than once, and have found the second time round I enjoyed it all a lot more. There's a mix of sculpture, installation, video work, photography and painting. I found that the painting side of things to be quite disappointing and won't dwell too long here on the ones I found to be shockingly bad, which is a shame because it doesn't reflect a lot of the interesting painting I see happening elsewhere. Two of the best pieces for me were video works. Elizabeth Price's 'User group disco' (see image below) shown in Plymouth Museum in which extreme close-ups of kitchen utensils and other miscellaneous objects are whirled around to A-Ha's 'Take on me' whilst philosophical text is scrolled across the screen. The work is about archives and taxonomies (even more appropriate when you consider that it is being shown in a museum) and how we classify objects. I could relate a lot of my current thinking and work to this piece and I liked its energy and pace which made it an engaging piece to watch. The second video is one that I think virtually everyone who visits the BAS enjoys is, Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' (see image below), in which a 24 hour series of cut scenes has been edited from films where there is a reference to a specific time so that when edited all together you have an entire video that tells the time: a clock of clocks, watches and time from hundreds of movies. This can only be best explained with an example, so, you go into watch the film at 2.45pm and on the screen is the famous scene from 'Safety Last!' with Harold Lloyd. Time moves on and there is a scene from Raging Bull etc. etc. that mirrors real time. Totally brilliant! I love movies and I could have sat there all day watching to see what films would come up next.

They might have been my favourite two pieces but there is still plenty more to see with work by Sarah Lucas, Wolfgang Tillmans and Roger Hiorns. The list almost reads like a Turner Prize nominees retrospective. It was also worth checking out Karla Black, Mick Peter, Brian Griffiths and Karin Ruggaber who for different reasons also had elements to their work that appealed to me (interestingly they are all sculptors/installation artists).

There you have it. Not that I have any previous years to compare it to, but I can say that the BAS7 is a real marmite mix of a show, there's a lot to love and a lot to hate, but in a way that's what makes it great. What could be more British or more contemporary than so many contradictions: art that makes you mad, art that makes you think, art that makes you feel, art that makes you laugh, art that shouts, art that inspires and art that just bamboozles you!

Glad I didn't miss it this time.

BAS7 at Plymouth College of art
BAS7 at Plymouth Art Centre

BAS7 at Plymouth City Museum and Gallery

Mick Peter - 'Moldenke fiddles on' 2008-09

Elizabeth Price - 'User Group Disco' 2009 (still)

Christian Marclay - 'The Clock' 2010 (still)Brian Griffiths - 'The body and ground (or your lovely smile)' 2010

British Art Show 7 is on until December 4th 2011 in Plymouth. For more details visit link below:

2 October 2011

They said it changes when the sun goes down...

Over the river going out of town you'll find Hestercombe gardens, the venue for a special Art weeks event:

"A Night of Light' presents an evening journey through Hestercombe Gardens as darkness descends. By subtly highlighting these historic gardens and their place in the history of garden design it features the work of 14 artists and projects that respond to either landscape or make artworks for very specific contexts. Light, in its many forms, is used here to heighten the viewers' awareness of differing aspects of the landscape and gardens be they historical, ephemeral, botanical, social, zoological or geographical."

Friday the 30th of September, and the event 'A Night of light' is finally here! Myself and my best friend, Jess were not going to miss the opportunity to see light, sound and site specific art works in Taunton's Hestercombe gardens in the dark. It just sounded too cool to miss! In fact we almost didn't get in, as tickets had completely sold out! However, we were lucky this time as there were a couple of volunteering opportunities to be taken up that meant we could get in and see the show after all.
The event as an experience was really good fun, like 'Sheds' you were given a map of the gardens showing the locations of the artworks along the way. I think the success of this event was being able to discover and follow the route on the map around the gardens with 13 artworks spaced at good intervals along the way allowing you to pause and enjoy the scenery on the way to the next artwork location. The atmosphere created by the large numbers of people visiting made it also a lively and entertaining evening which was heightened by the excitement of people's children who were, possibly as excited as me, to be running around Hestercombe gardens in the dark!

The art work on show is where I am more torn in my opinion, from loving some pieces like Mark Anderson's 'Kinetic flowers' and 'Woodpecker' pieces which really lived up to my expectations of 'A Night of light' in the way that they used 'light' and lots of it! The piece, 'Woodpecker' really made use of the space of the trees in Hestercombe, drawing your attention to the architecture of the trees as the green lights jumped from one tree to another along with the sound of a woodpecker which made you think about the wildlife within the gardens as well as drawing your attention to the garden itself. Similarly, Simon Hitchen's piece, 'Soul shadow' (a large mirror standing at the edge of the lake that had been lit on one side creating a long 'shadow' of light) was quite subtle but also beautiful as it was in context with its surroundings of the lake where you had similar reflections of light hitting the surface of the water. The continuity of this then followed by Tim Martin's graphic animation, 'Temple' on the Tempe Arbour in Hestercombe (the building is up quite high above the gardens)which also reflected back down onto the surface of the water.

Given the dramatic spaces that are on offer in Hestercombe I think the disappointment for me, in 'A Night of Light' came from the use of too many videos shown on television screens with several being shown in buildings/covered areas in the grounds of the gardens. The actual videowork being shown was ok, but I think given the context it was disappointing to have them shown on flat TV screens in rooms. Why was there not more use of projectors onto the outside of the buildings or gardens, for example? There is so much opportunity to use the space, but instead we are viewing videos in rooms and in tunnels behind metal bars(even if the sound was amplified by the tunnel as a space, why not just have the sound and no images?). To be fair I have no technical skill or expertise in any of the mediums that were on show during this event so I can only speculate at the sorts of things I would like to have seen happen without really knowing how technically possible it would be to make a reality. At the same time though, I found a lot of the art that was on show almost too subtle, slick or conceptual. All of which, are things that, if I am being honest, dislike in art as a rule (I don't mind it in moderation, sometimes...). Interestingly, the longer I spent with some work the more I did come to appreciate it, for example Chloe Brooks' piece (pictured below) became more endearing and less like an MDF stage set the longer I spent with it in the space. It was actually my friend that noticed the reflection the archway made in the pond (pictured in the photo below) and it did conjure up images of Indian architecture in relation to the space(and what the artist intended to do). I'm pleased that I was encouraged to look at the work for a sustained length of time as it was worth it and also a learning experience in terms of fighting with my own impatience in viewing art work and the benefits of staying with a piece of work for longer periods of time.

The show was definitely contemporary and despite my personal dislike of some of the work I acknowledge that having all kinds of art in Somerset is a very healthy thing. As someone said to me during the evening, "I'm a maxamalist not a minimalist." So true! I would have had gardening tools hanging from all the trees and bushes, I'd have planted some spades covered it in paint and lit it all up with fireworks! I am of course exaggerating to make a point and maybe that's because I like theatrics or am a little bit tacky, but if I had a canvas like Hestercombe why hold back? I would have loved a little bit more.

(above) Chloe Brooks' 'Plans for portals'
"Plans for portals' is a remaking of the India Gate, New Delhi on a domestic scale, and made with modern building materials. Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the original monument about 10 years after his additions of the Orangery and Dutch gardens at Hestercombe. Remaking the 'Gate' and positioning it within the environs that it references almost brings it back full circle. And yet, having undergone this double displacement, in this context the structure seems somewhat awkward, forcing a re-evaluation of both the place it inhabits and from where it came."

(above) Meg Calver and Tim Martin's 'These walls have ears' (sound installation in the Orangery)

(above and below) In the day and in the night photos of Mark Anderson's 'Kinetic flowers'
"Mark Anderson's work covers a broad spectrum, communing sound, light, kinetics, fire, pyrotechnic elements and frequently involving specially designed 'musical' apparatus, to create installations and performances for site specific outdoor events. Kinetic flowers was originally commissioned for Power Plant, an international touring sit specific show, of sound and light installations."

*Thank you very much to Jess Thorne who gave permission to use her photos on this blog post.