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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?

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