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13 December 2012

Review of 2012

  Welcome to the SAW blog review of 2012 with me, Natalie Parsley. Here’s a chronological look at the art exhibitions and events of the year proving that Somerset and beyond had a lot more to offer than just the Olympics this year...
Between 24th February and 4th March the SAW commissioned Maximum Exposure project, ‘Stop Line’ by Illuminos which saw pill boxes along the WW2 stop line projected on each night. I felt that this project failed to really ever capture my imagination in the way that I hoped it would given the hype surrounding it, but then that is possibly because regrettably I missed the opportunity to watch any of these events live because feedback from that those who attended these evenings was positive.
Moving onwards to March for the Open West, at Gloucestershire Cathedral. This was the first ‘Open West’ I’d ever been too and perhaps in a similar way to ‘Stop Line’ it was all about context, for what really made this was seeing contemporary sculpture, painting and film in the grounds of the cathedral.  From the catacombs to arches and the courtyard, it was a real, ‘lift’ to see and discover the artwork in this setting. It also introduced me to some new artists that I have then recognised since at Liverpool Biennial and other places, such as Jarik Jongman (painter), Rob Olins (mixed media) and Lucy Strachan (sculpter).
It was a great year for artists’ talks! David Mac at Taunton School and later I’ll be mentioning Gormley at Barrington Court, but it would not have been complete without a mentioning Alexis Harding’s visit to Someset College. The John Moores winning painter from London gave an hour’s talk about his painting process at the college in March. An amazing painter, if you haven’t ever seen his work please check it out:
May now and I cannot really neglect to mention the Olympics here somewhere in the review of 2012, and in Somerset it was at least a year to prepare for the torch day which involved hundreds of school children, colleges, performers, artists and musicians in its delivery. Despite the tacky-ness of the official Olympic sponsorship, the local talent was the highlight of this day and showcased the county in style at The County Cricket Ground.
If last year was all about Tithe Barns then this one was all about factories. If you weren’t exhibiting art in an old factory somewhere then, what were you thinking?! At a former glove factory in Yeovil the collaborative art partnership, Barber Swindells housed the installation, ‘One to Twenty’ at its centre a massive inflatable fireman’s glove that viewers were encouraged to bounce on.  Alongside this the history and its artefacts from the glove factory were on display and gave the more interactive piece to the exhibition more (quite literally) grounding and contextualised the work. This was in June, it later went out on tour and was part of Art Weeks in September.
After months of preparation a project that was personally very dear to me (admittedly because I was working on it), ‘Battle for the Winds’ came to the fair shores of Weymouth.  Seven South West counties and their spectacular, windy, whirling contraptions came together for a massive outdoor performance that went on into the night. This was an exciting departure for me away from the visual arts and into performance and music, which both in their own way also happen to be very visual. Seeing so many different skills and talents come together was very rewarding and fun.
Another event in July and as already mentioned above, this year saw Antony Gormley’s ‘Field for the British Isles be installed temporarily in Somerset’s Barrington Court. To top it off the artist himself also came down to give a talk on his work. Have a read of my post to see what I thought of the day:
One of my personal art exhibition highlights of the year, (possibly of all time) Jenny Saville at Modern Art in Oxford. I went to see this in early September when I should have probably been worrying about handing in my Masters Project Report. The good news is that I did both and wouldn’t have missed this exhibition for anything, it was a knock-out! Have a read of my review if you need convincing.
In August SAW’s involvement with the Great Crane Project worked with local artist, Lucy Lean who made a contemporary art installation consisting of origami paper cranes (loads of ‘em!) which were then exhibited alongside other SAW artists work at the WWT Slimbridge Wetlands Centre.  Every year the Great Crane Project delivers exciting new artworks and I recommend you checking out their blog page: which also includes details of a new SAW commission for an artist to work on the project.
No SAW review of any year would be complete without Somerset Art Weeks. This year was an Open Studios event and as ever had me running (not literally) up and down, left and right and all over the county looking at what Somerset’s artists had to offer. I was not disappointed and met lots of great artists and admired their work and studios. Visited 44 venues in total this year with two particular highlights mentioned here, Fiona Hingston at Cheese Yard Studios (pictured above) Nr Wells and The Red Brick Building in Glastonbury (and would definitely be on my ‘one to watch’ list if I were to do such a thing).
Another Art Weeks mention goes to the specially curated exhibition at Somerset College, ‘Thread’ featuring the colleges arts (Fine Art, Graphics) graduates.

Post Art Weeks I was still keen to see more art and made haste to a favourite place of mine, Liverpool for the Liverpool Biennial 2012. For the first time in my life, I was convinced at this year’s Biennial that the process of viewing art gets better with age (not that I’m that old mind you!). Maybe the making of it becomes trickier as the risk taking and inhibitions of youth become less but the more I learn about art by seeing and experiencing it the more I love it. Have a read of some of my highlights on the post I wrote:
More recently in November the Blackdown Hills Artists and Makers aka Bhaam (Liz Father's work pictured above at Simonsburrow House, Hemyock), exhibited in several locations in the Blackdowns for the first phase of a two part project titled, ‘Skills Unearthed’. I look forward to seeing what these artists do next year.
Later in November SAW also hosted workshops on curatorial practice/curating details of which I recently wrote about here on the SAW blog.
That’s just about it really, thank you to all the artists, performers, musicians and audiences who have made this year’s events, shows and exhibitions as diverse, original and exciting. Happy New Year to all and let’s see if we can do it all again next year!

11 December 2012

On at Taunton Library now:

Hip Hawker
Pop-up art kiosk created by Somerset artists working in collaboration with an international artist-designer team
Lisa Cheung and Sammy Delgado Escobar.
11th to 29th December 2012
Taunton Library

An international artist-design team Konvertible, Lisa Cheung (based in Granada, Spain & London) and designer Sammy Delgado Escobar (based in Madrid, Spain) arrive in Somerset this week to work with a group of 6 artists in Somerset to construct an imaginative, unique pop-up kiosk called, “Hip Hawker” which will be displayed at Taunton Library during this festival time from 11th to 29th December.

The Kiosk is to be built during an intensive two-day collaborative workshop on the 8th and 9th December at Langport.  The challenge will be to design and build an inventive, mobile, expandable kiosk, Hip Hawker, to ingeniously exhibit the range of creations collectively produced during a collaborative art project, Café Konvertible ( which took place during Somerset Arts Weeks in 2011.

The idea of the collaborative workshop is developed by Konvertible.

‘The philosophy of Konvertible is an open-workshop and a collective brainstorm where participants act as peers exchanging ideas and skills to form a working artistic team.  Konvertible projects have been sited in different locations (Madrid, Colombia, London and Bedford) involving a range of participants, each specific to each locale. Our interest is to involve people from the professional to the amateur, each with their own passion, creativity and skills to work together with ourselves and others to share knowledge, expertise and ideas.’

 Lead artist Lisa Cheung further explained the idea of their work. 

‘We choose materials that are readily available and cheap (including fabric, wood, paper and found objects) in order to produce products that are inexpensive but well-designed and unique.  We explore and combine a range of techniques: simple craft & construction, expert craft skills, and digital technologies to produce surprisingly and interesting combinations.’

The “kiosk” is a repeating theme in the Konvertible’s portfolio.  It encompasses aspects of mobility, self-sufficiency, temporality and street life. The final pop-up kiosk at the Taunton Library acts as a sculpture, a design object and a functioning display unit.

A simple DIY manual will also be available at the Kiosk for the public to take home. It includes a selection of Konvertible’s designs that aims to share their idea of ‘making’.  It is the first time Konvertible has made their designs open to public and available for anyone to make at home. 

Exhibition: 11th to 29th December, Exhibition Space, Taunton Library, Paul Street, Taunton, Somerset TA1 3XZ

For more information: Contact Somerset Art Works (SAW Ltd.) 01458 253800 /

 Hip Hawker is organised and commissioned by Somerset Art Works (SAW), funded by Arts Council England’s lottery fund and kindly supported by Taunton Library.

Hip Hawker is a continuation of Café Konvertible (

A collaborative art project organised by Somerset Art Works during Somerset Art Weeks 2011. Café Konvertible workshops ran a vintage VW camper van for one intensive week and the subsequent few weeks, showcasing all the design object products at Wick Farm, Langport. The travelling workshops were located in Yeovil, Langport, Wells, Street and Montacute in Somerset. The venues ranged from on the street in the town centre to a National Trust property. Participants were aged from 5 to 70 years old, from all walks of life and experiences.

About Konvertible (
Konvertible is a design initiative by visual artist Lisa Cheung (based in Granada, Spain & London) and designer Sammy Delgado Escobar (based in Madrid). Working with everyday materials, Konvertible's intention is to produce unique and interesting design objects that are affordable and fun.

About Somerset Art Works (
SAW is an artist-led organisation and Somerset’s only countywide agency dedicated to developing the visual arts. We currently have over 400 members, including artists, makers, curators and organisations. The core of SAW's philosophy is to provide opportunities for artists and makers to make new work, network with other artists and engage with a variety of organisations, landscapes and communities. SAW organises annual the Somerset Art Weeks event and a wide range of visual arts projects. 

2 December 2012

"And the winner is...does it matter?" A review of the 2012 Turner Prize

After a year away at Gateshead the Turner Prize annual award for contemporary British art returns for its 28th year at London’s Tate Britain.

I last saw the Turner Prize in 2005 when it was won by Simon Starling who exhibited a shed which was turned into a boat and then back into a shed again. That year I wanted the painter Gillian Carnegie to win and in the years that proceeded, although I never visited the Turner Prize exhibition I still closely followed its winners and nominees with great interest. Since then after studying art for six years it no longer bothered me that the artists I picked seldom won the prize, I simply liked the debate and sometimes even the controversy the prize caused amongst artists, critics and the public alike. With that in mind, I took the opportunity this year to visit the Turner Prize in person.

Selected by directors from British art galleries and institutions the 2012 nominees are; Spartacus Chetwynd with a canvialesque live performance piece, Luke Fowler with a film exploring the ideas and legacy of psychiatrist R D Laing, Paul Noble with a series of large pencil drawings depicting manmade landscapes and Elizabeth Price with an immersive digital video montage featuring footage of a fire that broke out in a Woolworths store in 1979.
 Chetwynd’s Turner Prize piece is bonkers and to quote one Guardian reviewer is, “Like being hit over the head with a pig’s bladder.” Ha, ha, so true but that is what is so wonderfully refreshing about it too. One of the first live performance based pieces in the Turner Prize’s history and set in its own bizarre low budget, sellotaped, painted and glued world of amateur looking stage and costume design. Although it is exactly the amateur looking nature of the set that is worthy of applause as it goes against the grain of the slickness of the professionalised art world. It also helps dissolve the barrier between audience and the performance as there is no clear boundary as to where the stage begins and ends. As Shakespeare famously wrote, ‘All the World’s a stage,’ so if you are Chetwynd why not make the entire gallery space you’re stage? Previous work from Chetwynd has been based on the Wicker Man, carnivalesque and draws inspiration from the work of film directors such as Ed Wood who were celebrated for being ‘terrible’ movie makers. Oddly, I wasn’t that intrigued by the sort of funny but carefully choreographed performances themselves and the characters that animated them. The storytelling, ‘something to do with a slide, some eggs...who knows..’ was lost on me but I was engrossed in the ‘world’ that it was set in and think that with all sincerity there is something great about creating something that is so bad and doing it so well.
 Fowler’s 90 minute long film documentary about the life of psychiatrist of R D Laing has echoes of John Akomfrah’s film about Stuart Hall that I recently saw at the Liverpool Biennial. Both present the more personal lives of the men they portray and Fowler’s film shows and I quote, ‘the relationships between individuals and how society changes through time’. But that’s exactly the point, that I didn’t really quite get the point. I don’t know anything much about Laing and really struggled to endure the full length of the film that when I saw Akomfrah’s, whilst I was again ignorant to who Stuart Hall is, I was held by the imagery and storytelling to want to learn more. It feels unfair to compare Fowler in this way as hearing and looking at some of his other work, like some shorts he made for Channel four, actually look really interesting, I just feel like the piece shown here wasn’t doing it for me.

My two favourite artists nominated this year, however are Paul Noble and Elizabeth Price. Noble’s drawings are as subversive as they are huge and fill up most of the gallery wall. For their size they are extremely well drawn and executed and it is easy to get lost looking at the tiny details of pots, plants and phallic and excrement looking shapes. Noble created the drawings as s series , ‘Nobson Newtown’ and are based on creating city/landscapes out of a type font called Nobson. They are obviously not without humour and I think if anyone can make drawings of turds that capture and invite so much scrutiny and interest then that is a feat worth credit.
 However, Elizabeth Price’s digital film titled, ‘The Woolworth’s Choir of 1979’ would be without doubt the one I’d put my money on to win. The influence of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s advertising imagery of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s seems very evident in Price’s digital montages particularly in the use of black, white and red echoing tabloid newspapers that Kruger and Price both used in their work.  A digital collage of media-like text, wording and imagery is cleverly edited to create multilayered meanings to existing and edited footage. In this case stock footage from news reports/interviews from a fire that broke out in a Woolworths department store in Manchester in 1979 and imagery from churches that reads more like a controlled PowerPoint presentation are fused harmoniously together alongside an accompanying finger clicking and Shangri-Las between each image. It creates new meaning that holds you in the same way that punchy advertising can but with more ups and downs as the pace speeds up and then slows down to dramatic effect. After seeing her piece, ‘User Group Disco’ at the British Art Show I was equally impressed and captivated this time. Maybe it is because Price creates work in a media-style language that we are all so familiar and used to that she draws her viewer in and really does create something that is immersive and powerful.
 Overall I admired the diversity of work presented and it was particularly refreshing to see a live performance piece and drawing based visual art be nominated. The work shown is serious, satirical and thoughtful which also means there is a great demand and expectation on its audience to engage and consider the work. For me, this makes it all the more interesting and difficult if not a little bit pointless to pick an overall winner. This year’s Turner Prize reminds us the important thing about its legacy is not the prize itself but all of the art it presents.
 If you are interested to know the winner of this year’s Turner Prize it will be announced on Channel four tomorrow, December 3rd at 07.30pm.

Or make your own decision and see the exhibition itself at Tate Britain until 6th Jan.
 Images from: