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22 March 2012

In the news...

Its been another dull week here in Taunton, last Thursday 15th we had the Friends of SAW evening at Woodlands Castle, then a talk by sculptor David Mach at Taunton School on Tuesday, another artists' talk from painter, Alexis Harding at Somerset College just yesterday and now to top it all off this evening there's a beacon event outside The Brewhouse Theatre, where we'll have a musical and visual spectacle as a lit beacon is going to be sent down the river Tone on its journey to Bridgwater. Not to mention the SAW Reveal conference that also took place today in Wells! If you aren't feeling 'arted-out', living in Somerset this week then where have you been?!

I'll accept this post is going to be more like a journal entry whereby I'll (as briefly as I can) summarise some of the wonderful things that have happened this week. Firstly we had a Friends of SAW evening (last Thursday) at Woodlands Castle, Taunton which was organised by Lyn Mowat and hosted by Sir Benjamin Slade. Myself, Jon England and Kitty Hillier were invited along to show and talk about a piece of work, 'yikes' I thought to myself initially, it had been quite a while since I'd last spoken in front of a group of more than 10 people! However, it turned out to actually be a fun experience and in my slightly nervous way I appreciated the opportunity to talk about a piece of work I'd made in public, it always seems to reaffirm or highlight things you may not have known or forgotten about your work. That, and I got to wield a large rusty saw I'd brought alone as an additional visual pun! This was the first 'Friends of SAW' event that I'd been to so it was also a great opportunity to meet lots of new people who share an interest/support the arts in Somerset. Prizes of £100 to be spent during art weeks and works of art were also handed out at this event to people who visited art weeks last year.

Onward now to Tuesday 20th, 7pm at Taunton School and what better way to end the day than with a talk by visiting artist, David Mach (see 'Gorilla' coat hanger sculpture, 2011 below). This was possibly, second to Martin Creed, the most entertaining artist talk that I've ever been to. Maybe its a Scottish thing? I don't know, but if I was looking to critic how an artist talked about their work, I'd say that David Mach certainly knew how to build a rapport with his audience. That isn't to say I didn't learn anything from it or that the talk lacked depth, it was just really interesting because it was entertaining. The comedic affect is helped however, if you happen to be an artist, like David Mach, that happens to use tonnes of magazines, millions of matchsticks or Sindy dolls to make your work. That aside it would be easy to fall into either the complete ridiculousness or over-the-top seriousness in rationalising work made of these kinds of materials, with neither being very preferable. There's an art to talking about ones work with a sense of humour and still be taken seriously enough to be commissioned to make a giant public sculpture of a train made of bricks. David Mach whether he knows/cares or not in my opinion seems to get the balance right.
And, finally, yesterday Alexis Harding came to Somerset College to talk about his paintings, winner of the John Moores Painting prize in 2004, Harding's paintings use a 'wet on wet' technique in which gloss is applied onto oil and then tilted in an upright position allowing the paint to slump and pool and slide off the surface. For what initially sounds like a fairly straight forward thing to do, you'd be amazed at, firstly how tricky it actually is to get it to work and secondly how many variations you can get from one process (well, even though I'd seen one of Harding's paintings before, it still surprised me). Whilst Harding is undeniably a painter there is definitely something sculptural, or bodily about his work (he does acknowledge the latter) and the love of substance and material of working with paint is really the key to what interests and motivates his work. All of which means I cannot help but make the connection between Mach's use of materials and Harding's, one the sculptor and one the painter yet so many crossovers in their interest in material and surface. I've always liked that about art, the crossovers, how you can be a sculptor influenced by a painting, a performer influenced by a sculpture and Harding himself commented on how a lot of his peers at art college were using film and how that filtered into his own interests in time/timings with Harding choosing to use paint instead of film as his medium.

Thus in a very rounded up way, concludes what has so far been another incredibly arty week. I'm still surprised, pleased and humbled that there keeps (for the moment at least) to be a constant supply of art events on my door step. Long may it continue!

I'm off out right now to the 'Floating Beacon of Sound and Light' evening event outside The Brewhouse, 6-8pm. See you there!

11 March 2012

Art book review of the month: March , 'Zona' by Geoff Dyer

A book review about a book about a film about a journey into a room.

Earlier than planned, here is March's 'Book Review of the Month' with this months choice being 'Zona' by Geoff Dyer. This time I've gone for a film related read in which the author, Geoff Dyer takes the reader on a journey, literally scene by scene (you could also read as 'step-by-step') of the Andrei Tarkovsky directed film, 'Stalker' including his own anecdotes and experiences to discuss the film in depth. Discussion of the film acts as a means of exploring cinema and, I quote, 'how we understand our obsessions and how we try to realise-discover, even-our deepest wishes'.

This is probably where you are wondering whether you need to have seen the film in order to read and get the most from this book? The quick answer would be yes, it would help and be infinitely more wholesome to see the film first (Although I did read a review for this same book online in the LA Times and the reviewer had never seen the film 'Stalker'?). It might not be essential, but the book isn't a 'description' of the film so a lot of the shots, beauty/atmosphere/music/sound/acting can only be experienced by watching the movie. And why wouldn't you want to watch it anyway?! Its a great film.

Synopsis here for those of you who might be wondering what its all about:

"Deep within the Zone, a bleak and devastated forbidden landscape, lies a mysterious room with the power to grant the deepest wishes of those strong enough to make the hazardous journey there. Desperate to reach it, a scientist and a writer approaches the Stalker, one of the few able to navigate the Zone s menacing terrain and they begin a dangerous trek into the unknown. Tarkovsky s second foray into science fiction after Solaris is a surreal and disturbing vision of the future. Hauntingly exploring man s dreams and desires, and the consequences of realising them."

For me, reading this book after last seeing the film three years ago has made me want to see it again, with 'new eyes' so I intend on seeing it again. But why? Why has this film over all others had such a profound effect on Dyer and in a filtered down kind-of-way, myself and others to make him write a whole book about it and then for me to want to read it? I think the way Dyer comments on his own experiences and interpretations of seeing the film is key to the reason for the writing of the book because it acknowledges the affect of cinema, of seeing a great film and that there are a few great films, movie moments, that last with us years after seeing them on screen. For Dyer, 'Stalker' is one, if not the most important, one of those films. Where my interest comes in, is that I can relate to film in the same way I feel about certain works of art, and I'm always interested in the moments from those films/works of art that stick and have a lasting impression or change how you think or perceive something, as Bresson put it, the aim of film (like art) is to, "Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen." I always found Tarkovsky's films in general to be quite 'hard going' films, they are so very slow and unlike the fast pace of blockbuster movies I'd grown accustomed to, 'Stalker' for example only has 142 shots throughout its 160mins! Even the long and mundane dialogue in some of Tarintino's films seems 'fast-paced' compared to Tarkovsky. However, in exchange for your attention you are rewarded greatly with an altogether different experience that is on one hand more realistic (in the way that time is quite slow and much of it is spent with very little happening in comparison to the time which is spent with lots of activity), but is also quite mesmeric as you do feel like you are switching off whilst paying attention, its quite odd. I can only compare it to looking at a painting, where you have all the information in a single image but can spend so much time looking within that space. This seems to be what Tarkovsky wanted, in Dyer's book he talks of how Tarkovsky wanted to trade 'space' in his films for 'time'. So having longer sustained shots as to having many. There are so many parallels between Tarakovsky and art, indeed what the man himself has to say about art (read 'Sculpting in Time') is, in my opinion some of the most accurate and resonate descriptions of 'the purpose of art' and 'why it is of importance' that I have ever read (even though I'm not a film-maker, that has nothing to do with it!). All of which came to my attention from my art tutor during my degree. In Dyer's words, "If I had not seen 'Stalker' in my early twenties my responsiveness to the world would have been radically diminished." Likewise, I feel, seeing 'Stalker' also in my early twenties (although for Dyer that would have been when the film was released in 1979) was significant in helping me slow down, and notice things. An 'intensity of attention' would be a better way of articulating it.

Anyway, back to the book! Dyer takes the reader through each scene in the film and discusses his own interpretations and thoughts around the scene. The book isn't so much a description or synopsis of the film and isn't focused too heavily on deconstructing the film either (i.e the technical aspects of 'how' it was filmed). Some reviews of the book have criticised that in having a more discursive take, opinion of the film would be better suited to the kind of writing on a blog post rather than a book. I'd disagree as I think that Dyer's analysis into the film is much more informed than the average blog post as it includes observations linking it to ideas from Barthes, Ponty and Heidegger (to name a few) as well as artists and other films such as Christian Marclay's 'The Clock', Lars Von Trier's 'Antichrist' and numerous other references. All of which made for an informative read that was more colloquial, fun and accessible than a heavy over saturated and symbolic reading of what (whilst having many interpretations) was never intended to be read as a symbolic movie. I think I had always previously struggled to explain in my own words what it 'was' about Tarkovsky's films that interested me and I think that reading this book has helped clarify my own impressions of the film and lasting thoughts as well as open up lots of new ideas I had previously not noticed. It would be refreshing if more films were reflected on in writing in the same way as 'Zona'. In the same way 'Stalker' can be read as a 'journey' movie, Dyer takes us on a journey within the book to its inevitable destination, which we already know will be the end of the film, and for me it was a journey well worth the read.

4 March 2012

Thanks for the lift!

Apologies in advance for the lack of images in this post, it was too distracting to take photos whilst navigating a map showing the work of 55 artists, view the work and hold a glass of wine at the same for the moment! Besides, I think I quite like the ambiguity in telling you about what was a really exciting exhibition without showing you the images so that hopefully I can convince you enough to get out and go have a look for yourselves. If you haven't read the image above already I am, of course, talking about 'The Open West 2012' at Gloucester Cathedral. I knew the context of Gloucester Cathedral would be impressive, given the fact I'd seen how interesting the architecture of the space was on visits before and whilst its usual to see and experience art in cathedrals it was going to be very exciting to see how contemporary art work operated in the space as well. I was surprised at how many artists (55) had taken part, as well as not only the variety of work, painting, projection, film, sculpture and installation but variety of forms, say 'sculpture' took, from concrete casts, neon lighting, books, wire and object fused hybrids; in other words there was a healthy variety of work. The opportunity to view the work in the Cathedral also added to the experience, with art work on walls, hidden around corners, in dark chapels and down in the crypt. Viewing the work at night added to viewing the work too and everything became basked in a goldeny-orange glow. Discovering the work was fun as well as seeing how that work related to the space and how in come cases changed the meaning of the work altogether. Not to say in the least that everything ends up having a religious connotation to it because of being in the Cathedral, but in some cases it does make you reflect more on, the spiritual or the mysterious/unexplained. All of which can be attributed to art in a gallery context, I just feel that I was maybe more conscious of those things because of the Cathedral setting. Overall the whole exhibition was a refreshing lift and I'll definitely look into it again next year.

I've included some links to websites of some of the exhibiting artists, here are a few that interested me in some way: