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27 May 2012

May's Art Book of the Month: 'Raw + Material = Art'

Quickly, there's still time to squeeze in a book review before the rush of summer end of year exhibitions, open studios and fringe events happening in June (and I always thought 'art weeks' were busy enough!). This weeks post is going to be much gentler than the busy action packed posts of the last three weeks, so I am pleased to bring you  the 'Art book of the month' review for May!

This months book is the large (bit bigger than A3 sized) and very visual, 'Raw + Material = Art' put together and edited by Tristan Manco. As the title would suggest, this book features art work made from the rawest, weirdest, most imaginative and inventive materials that the world has to offer. If you've ever heard, 'the world is your art shop' then the art in this book is testament to that statement with everything from staples, beans, bags, buttons, cellophane, dirt, flip flops, paper, wool, string and skateboards and the phone book being either recycled, altered or transformed into works that make you think, work that makes you smile, work that has political or environmental undertones and work that just, quite honestly blows you away!Complain no more that you cannot afford art materials, when there is just so much 'stuff' waiting to be transformed into something new!

This isn't your normal, 'art made from recycled materials' kind of book, mainly because recycled art has come a long way from the perceived stereotype of taking empty glass bottles and using them to make stained glass tiles and even the increasingly popular scrap made sculptures, which are awesome in their own right, but there's a whole wealth of other materials to make art from that create totally different results. Some examples, Baptsite Debomberg uses staples to make drawings of figures on walls. He also uses the walls themselves, sometimes completely destroying and rebuilding them to make sculptures that are both part and burst put from the architecture of the space. Or take Klaus Dauven who does a form of 'anti-graffiti' where he draws by removing the dirt on, say a wall, to create an image (I really recommend a look at his website to see his work, some of it is on a mega ambitious scale! Where he used jet washers to draw onto a dam!) Zadok Ben-David, creates figures and botanical installations using left over bits of rust.  And there are many many more fantastic examples...
Haroshi - makes sculptures from old skateboards
Luzinterruptus - site specific work using LEDs and leaves/bags
Mia Pearlman - you've never seen paper used in such an ambitious way!

Artists have always been inventive, in a way the concept of this collection of artists and their work is nothing new but none-the-less it is one of the most refreshing books of its kind that I've seen in a while. I can only put this down to the ambitiousness of some of the work (as a lot of it is on an epic scale, or you can see how complicated the process of making it must have been) and how most of it takes the 'raw material' and really does turn it into something new (so its not the old Duchampian kind of mentality, of exhibiting 'ready-mades' or covering an object in a load of paint then sticking it in a collage, but at the same time also pays tribute and is as a result of Modernism). Each artist, it seems, really demonstrates an understanding and knowledge of their material which they adapt and explore in depth, so the question of 'what can I do with a piece of paper?' really looks at all the physical properties of paper, and how it can be manipulated and used for something other than, in paper's case, drawing/writing on. Re-purposing utilitarian objects so that the correlation between art and life has a renewed resonance for the 21st Century.

Tactile and inspiring this book definitely left me thinking, I wonder what I can do with those old tins...those tacks and things.... Its also very beautifully set out with over 50 artists and '400 colour images', with just enough info and text to answer questions of, 'How was that made?' and 'What does it mean?' without becoming too self congratulatory or pretentious in its art terminology. Good stuff! Take a look at the artists mentioned above and please check out the book if you can, its well worth a look!

That's all for this week, next week I am planning to write about the eight artists exhibition, 'Drawing Breath' in Langport and Barber Swindells' installation 'One to Twenty' at the Glove Factory in Yeovil (details of both can be found in the bar on right hand side of this blog). Looking forward to it!

20 May 2012

Taunton Olympic Torch Celebrations!

Its nearly time to celebrate! Finally, after months and months of preparations The Olympic Torch will finally be arriving into Somerset and into Taunton on Monday May 21st. The torch will make its way through the town before arriving at The County Cricket Ground at 06.50pm. I could not imagine not writing a post about this event, seeing as so many arts organisations are taking part in the events happening on the day, because whilst the torch does not arrive until the evening, during the day from 10.00am onwards there are loads and loads of things happening around town. From live music, to performance, circus skills, video projection and art exhibitions, if you are planning to come into town tomorrow you'll definitely find something to do!

Take a look below at what's on:

10am – close The Brewhouse (Main House)- Light Waves films
Over the past year Light Waves has been working with artists, schools, families and communities from across Somerset. Come to the launch of specially commissioned documentary films, created by Somerset Film, at noon. At 1pm join us for the premiere of the Luminos film, Taunton Stop Line, co-produced with Somerset Arts Works. Films continue on the hour every hour.
11am – 12pm Somerset Square- Somerset Parade
A procession led by specially created human powered vehicles with the Celebrating Somerset Banners and The Big Noise street band will leave the Coal Orchard car park and parade up to the north street roundabout and back. They will be joined by school children wearing Games-inspired costumes; with machines and costumes created by Somerset College students.

AT 1.00PM SEE THE FIRST SCREENING OF 'STOP LINE' (the SAW Maximum Exposure funded project that took place earlier this year) live in the auditorium of The Brewhouse!

12pm – 5pm Somerset Square- Outdoor Celebrations
An afternoon of participatory, sports-meets-arts activities and performances for all ages and abilities to enjoy together. As Taunton awaits the arrival of The Olympic Torch, join in the fun and games right outside The Brewhouse on this special day. Join the circus with Fuse Performance, with their exciting performances, workshops and street games, and also look out for some special performances from the local community.

 2pm - 3.30pm The Brewhouse (Studio)- Lightstream
From 2pm to 3.30pm Parents with young children will be able to attend a free taster Lightstream workshop. This is aimed at ages 2 to 5 years old and is an interactive session, where children are invited to play with big lights and tiny lights, lights that glow and lights that move. Even some noisy lights!
8pm – 10pm Somerset Square- Illuminations
From 8pm, Celebrating Somerset will present an evening of sound, stories and light illuminating Somerset Square. The evening will feature live music, projections created by Light Waves artists, fire juggling from Fuse Performance Co and Street Linx, machines built by Somerset College students and the Wind Gatherer vehicle and its crew.

Articulate: 2nd year Fine Art and Graphics degree students exhibition at The Collar Factory (next to The County Cricket Ground). Open 10.30am - 08.00pm on Monday 21st. Exhibition open daily til Saturday 26th.

So lots to see and do tomorrow! I've included some sneak preview photos of the Wind Gatherer vehicle and wind gatherers that are part of the Somerset Journey which starts tomorrow in the parade at 11.00am and again in the Cricket Ground in the evening. I've been involved in organising this project for the last few months so it is something that I am really looking forward to and I think it will be quite the spectacle.The Somerset Journey will  'Sound out Somerset' for a month before arriving in Weymouth for 'The Battle for the Winds' on July 28th. For more info on 'A Somerset Journey' please go to:

The Wind Gatherer vehicle as a part of The Somerset Journey on its maiden voyage around the Bridgwater Crypton Industrial Estate. Please note the vehicle has not yet been painted.

One of the wind gatherers, Thunder and Lightening Man surveys the scene.

Tarn the fixer, Chime child and the Wind conductor on board the Wind Gatherer

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Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

13 May 2012

Don't be a spanner!

So much has been happening the last few weeks that it has meant that a few posts might be coming this way a little bit in retrospect, but that's all good because its meant that its also been an exciting couple of weeks! I wanted to use this post this week to talk and reflect a bit on my own practice (quelle surprise!) as, whilst I write a lot on the blog about what inspires my practice and what I enjoy seeing in other people's work, I don't think I ever talk much about what I'm actually making. So, let this be a first and a new chapter in the history of this blog as I attempt to present to you a much condensed version of my recent artistic plights!
If I may set the scene... Interim assessment for the MA Fine Art was rapidly approaching at the end of April. Previous attempts to secure a gallery space we (the other MA students) can all use have come to no avail. Enter, the illustrious, sizable, elegant and affordable, Crescent Contemporary in Taunton. Throw in a  very good friend of mine who also happens to own it, plus a whole bunch of determination and enthusiasm (comes as standard). And the result? A one day only, pop-up gallery space opportunity in my home town, that I'd have to be an idiot to turn down (or indeed a spanner).  
The invite that I very cheekily sent round very last minute to people inviting them to come to see my work. Really pleasantly surprised at the turn out, big thank you to all who came!

(above) First wall of work that greeted you in the, 'small but perfectly formed' gallery space. Two label pieces on the left and some carbon paper drawings on the right. Large drawing in the centre being made with carbon and a hammer(explanation to follow). So, my previous tool attempts have been of the very visual nature, i.e. concentrating mostly on what tools look like/shape/form etc. Now is the time to try new approaches and see what else can be done with tools. Previously never explored a bodily related approach to using tools/tool use so wanted to create a drawing using a tool, in this case namely a hammer....drawing as an embodied experience vs. using a hammer as an embodied experience...the created affect from hammering away at a pile of carbon based coal on a sheet of paper for five hours is, what you would expect: a lot of circular hammered marks radiating out from the centre getting lighter the further away from the centre you get. However, I soon started to make connection between the abstract image that was appearing and the likeness it had (at least in my mind) to something cellular/organic. Wanted to take this idea further and draw into my drawing/make it more obviously readable as being something cellular/or bodily so took an image of a cross-section of inside the human lungs to draw from.  I then adapted the hammer into a drawing tool even further by turning it into an eraser (fixing rubber onto the head of the hammer) which I could use to draw back into my already hammered drawing. Further links with carbon used in drawing and carbon in the human body and carbon, as in CO2, associated with the lungs and breathing being additional ties that were my attempts to link the work together conceptually. Whether how much of that is actually reflected back into the work is what I wanted to find out during this opportunity to have the work in front of a different audience. As a result of that feedback I think it might be trying too hard to say too much, when actually exploring different kinds of drawing with different tools (and not trying to make it 'look' like anything) might be a more simple and direct way of getting the same idea across. Well, that's certainly what I am planning on pursuing next anyway.

(above) In my mission to explore different ways and means of answering the question, 'what is a tool?' I looked at taking a very categorised approach and made labels (in the form of drawings/close-up photocopies/text/stains etc.) of every hand tool in my house. Think there were more than 75 different tools, each with around four or five labels showing different visual aspects of the tool. Yep, definitely ticked the 'obsessive' box but was a little too systematic for my liking and touched upon the 'visual' aspect of tools but told little in the way of the 'lived experience' of how it feels to actually use a tool. So useful but left me wondering how to resolve it more.

Tools on a wall. Tool prints on a wall, courtesy a la Lisa Milroy's paintings of everyday objects which she keeps inside the rectangle of the canvas frame and groups together in sets giving the impression of shop windows/cupboards. Well, there's a lot one could question here regarding colour etc. to which I could only reply with the honest answer that I was using colours which I had previously not printed with (i.e. brown) and that appealed to my mood/state of mind at the time. Hrmm...I should probably have thought things through more, but think that all this thinking is actually a bit sickening sometimes and the only escape is to just do it without thinking and then face the consequences after.

(above) Its a tool chest! (I could say more, but I'm not going to)

(above) More proof of the label making madness that consumed me for two months. Of all things I regret the amount of time invested in these things which although worked out how I planned in their design, didn't really have the resonance I wanted once I made them or they weren't really saying what I wanted them to say (if that makes any sense?). I wanted them to be more individual and interesting rather than a mass of stuff and information which it turned out to be(coincidentally I edited the labels down into the box framed pieces you saw above, but even then I wasn't completely satisfied) I've never been the person to endeavour and attempt to reassess and revisit my work once its finished. I've always preferred to learn from it and move away and never have to visit it again. Aware that this might not be the ideal way of working but still feeling too stubborn to change and have too many new ideas that I want to try before having to revisit old work.

All in all a useful and reflective bit of enterprise. Thoroughly grateful to have had such a professional, clean gallery space to work in and  opportunity that particularly allowed the benefit of having feedback from the artists and people whose opinions I respect in Somerset being able to see it. Slightly frustrating though too, as I feel myself being pulled in two with what I know to be 'right' on one side to progress and fulfil the academic aims I have set myself and on the other all the weird and joyous things I know I will have to make even though they have no baring or merit to anything that is grounded in purpose other than my own self indulgence. Its an artistically dangerous dualism to have right now, but one I am going to none-the-less continue to embark upon defiantly and see where it takes me. So what else is new?

7 May 2012

Take me to the Island...

Me and my cold made a last minute decision to visit Spike Island Open Studios this weekend. I'd only ever seen the gallery and UWE studios at Spike so this was to be a first visit to the popular studios I've heard talked about so often from other artists. I cannot deny that it truly is a great building, tardis-like inside with over 112 decently sized studio spaces (with high ceilings, always a plus!) and an excellent print room and facilities aplenty. In terms of the art on offer though it was, if I'm being honest, more than a little disappointing, mostly I think because there wasn't actually that much art around with a lot of studio spaces having one or two paintings in or some photos of work made by the artist. This is compared to what I had normally come to expect at Open Studios, like Jamaica Street, BV and Bath Artists' Studios where there is always a plethora of artwork all over the walls. I'm aware I am being quite harsh, as it wasn't the case for all the studios at Spike. There were a good few with sculptures set out, works-in-progress and paintings hung and I know that the among the artists themselves there are a lot of great and talented artists at Spike, however it wasn't, in my view, no way near met with the same enthusiasm (in terms of the amount of work shown/quality) as the other artists open studios events in Bristol. The print room and work on display there was actually my favourite out of all the art I saw on the day along with the few examples in the photos below. The shooting gallery and ping pong table were great ideas to make the event more fun but should have been additions to a great event instead of being among the highlights.  Looking around this weekend gave me the impression that its the prestige and reputation of being associated with a well established place like 'Spike Island' that is of more value and importance than the actual work that is made there. It may well be, in which case I think that is a very sad thing for the arts and even if that's not the case, it is a shame that that is the impression I got from what felt like a 'lack of effort' to make everyone's studio lively and interesting. There is a debate to be had here though that whether how much is the  'value' of a work of art, its merit and/or its quality and relevance is determined by the establishment it is associated/shown with? Can you ever detach the two? The same goes with galleries and the arts in education. So, I'm pleased I visited if only to have had the time to think and come to my own opinion about Spike. I'd love it next year to be proved wrong!

                                          (above)  Noe Baba's Studio space at Spike Island
                                             (above) Emma Stibbon's Studio at Spike Island

In other news....when art's letting you down, go and check out a shop window!
I couldn't help and resist to show you these images from Harvey Nichols shop window front in Bristol which had a very tool related theme. Namely, a bicycle made of spanners and a giant hammer made of nails! I know its a kitsch and tacky (no pun intended) as they come, but its definitely fun and witty. I am not so sure if I can bare the pretentiousness of 'art' a lot of the time. So, I'd rather enjoy this consumerist window tat and liken it, in my mind, to the work of Claes Oldenburg and Vik Muniz and then think about spanners and how they are used to build bikes and tools and link it altogether with associations of tools and people/transport and industry, yet along all the Freudian connotations which spring to mind! And its for all that, which is why I rate work like this. It is 'showy' and 'dressy' in the way it is staged and built as its purpose is to be a creative and eye-catching window display. That's also why I like it, for its unabashed honesty, that says,
'Yes, look at me! I'm a window display of a woman riding a giant hammer made of nails! Have you ever seen anything so weird on your way to get a loaf of bread? I know you're busy, but look I'll only take a moment of your time. I'm not even selling hammers, but you can be sure that if you come inside you'll find lots of similar creative things that if you buy will make you as creative and kooky as me!'
Unlike so much art (and I'll be the first to admit I know I do this) which almost tries too hard to clamour for attention because it holds a profound meaning or message and would possibly, if it could talk, would say something like this,
'Hello, you know you ought to look at me. I know that I'm just a white square with charcoal on me, but I'm mounted in a perspex box frame of high quality that's been suspended as though floating on the white washed wall of the gallery. You know you should spend time with me, after all you chose to come here and it was a long, they gave me my own wall! And look! I've also got a label that explains how deeply complex I am and how I was conceived after weeks of rigourous research into the metaphysical cosmology of existential thought processes and systems, but I'm sure you knew all that just by looking at me.'  
Maybe I'm just fighting the system that I'm part-of, maybe there is more than a pinch of cynicism in there too (but some would call it honesty?) but I'd like to think its always important to keep an open mind that art can be everywhere, especially shop windows and that maybe making that isn't trying to be art wouldn't be a bad idea for any artist to follow. An artist that is 'trying to make art that isn't art', where to begin?