Monday, 27 October 2014


Erica Eyres with 'Sexual Fitness',2012

I spoke with Erica Eyres on October 24 2014, the last day of her show Biography Channel at the ASC Gallery, London. Born in Winnipeg in 1980 and educated in Winnipeg and Glasgow, she is best known for her obliquely disturbing films and drawings. The set-up at ASC was one film set in a sculptural installation, one film in a screened off area in the main space, and one large drawing in its own space behind that. First we discussed her background and two of the many films she has made previously. See

You’ve lived in Glasgow for twelve years now, but grew up in Winnipeg. It’s an unusual place: 700,000 people isolated in the middle of Canada, the coldest city in the world, snowed under every year for months on end. Its distinctive atmosphere is well captured in Guy Maddin’s film ‘My Winnipeg’ and the work of the Royal Art Lodge (Marcel Dzama and friends). How has it affected you?

I go back once a year, but didn’t realise until recently how much it influences my aesthetic. The city has a kind of casual attitude about it, yet inspires various forms of Surrealism. The slogan for Manitoba, the province where Winnipeg is situated, is “Friendly Manitoba”, which is true: there are a lot of strange characters in Winnipeg who try to engage with you everywhere you go. So, for me, narrative is everywhere there – visiting makes me recall past narratives, but I also seem to have quite funny yet intense situations.

A wry line from Maddin’s film is ‘I’m finally leaving Winnipeg for good – again’. How do you relate to that?

 I always think about going back – I do enjoy being there, but I always go in the summer. People are really different and happy in the summer, but winter’s depressing, as you can’t go outside. And it’s always a strange step to go back to your home town. 

How does Glasgow compare?

It’s not small, yet is small enough that everyone in the art scene knows each other. In some ways it’s a secondary city, like Winnipeg, as the main tourist attraction is Edinburgh. Glasgow also has its own different approach to everything. 

Who were your art heroes?

Diane Arbus was a formative figure for me when I was 15. Recently Philip Guston and Mike Kelley have interested me most. 

Would you say your films aim for certain awkwardness, maybe even a slight amateurishness along the lines of bad TV?

I’m definitely drawn to that aesthetic; I suppose it reminds of public access broadcasting in North America that has a certain appeal to me. And the idea that you’re trying to make something look convincing, but at the same time failing. I am drawn to awkward subjects, but the result is more something that just happens. I never set out to make something look amateur or awkward, I think it is genuinely the best I can do on my own without the assistance of a professional camera person, or director of photography. Funding is an issue, but I suppose I also have some resistance to the idea of artists utilising big film crews. There’s something more honest, at least for me, about an artist presenting something they’ve done with a single camera.  

Still from 'Pam's Dream'

But to remake Dallas with children (Pam’s Dream, 2011) must have been asking for a certain sort of awkwardness? What led to that project?
I got really into Dallas one summer, having never seen it before. Patrick Duffy had wanted to pursue a film career, but ratings really went down without his character, Bobby, so they got him back after the series, in which he’d died and Pam had remarried. So that series was revealed as a dream. The ridiculousness, and the way the actor seemed trapped, appealed to me.  It was so difficult trying to manage all these children. They’d brag to me how good they were and how seriously they were taking it, then they’d say they hadn’t been able to learn their lines, and they’d end up just reading off the ground. So it was awkward and the backgrounds were just the best I could do, but it would have been too cute otherwise, and made it less ridiculous to have them talking about power and capitalism.

I guess I should ask what TV programmes you most enjoy watching now?

I watch a lot of reality TV shows, like Come Dine With Me, and The Taste. I also really loved that show First Dates about the restaurant with all the people meeting on blind dates. My boyfriend and I will watch entire series of something like Cheers- which would have been perfect if it ended after season 1 as it was much like a play that all happened in one room. At the moment we’re on Season 4 of the The Waltons.  I’ve been wanting to do a series of drawings based on the Waltons, I think because I was considering how ironic it was that we were watching pirated files of the Waltons when it’s the most moralizing show, and seems to have a lot of episodes about the dangers of stealing.

In Inside the Minds, 2012, we mostly see a white wall while we hear about someone who can't read (he explains how he pretends to be reading) but can read minds and says how often he found an unrealised intention there before what seems to have been a disturbing action took place. How did that arise?

I’d been accumulating educational VHS tapes from the 1980s, and I’d found this material on first aid, and narrowed it down to a prolonged minute in which a body was just lying there, put together with a text in which someone with reading difficulties talks about their telepathic abilities, sort of balancing a problem reading with the claim that they can read minds. It’s a ‘loud’ silent movie. Then I ended up filming a white wall so the text comes up against a blank and you take on the condition of staring at a wall.

Why did you use sub-titles? 

I’m interested in finding ways of changing a narrative, and ways of making things seem anonymous – sub-titles can make the speaker invisible. Also, I often use narratives which are personal or based on someone I know and I like to change the point of view so it’s not just the standard monologue to camera in confessional mode.

Still from 'Autobiography 1'

Moving on to the work in this show, Autobiography 1 features someone seemingly reading someone else’s words about someone who wrote their own obituary?

Yes, it’s based on my own family but came to be more like archetypes than people you can empathise with. Having a male speaker reading complicates it: is the autobiography referring to him, you, or the person in the story?  It provides a way of questioning the medium. It was in this strange and ambiguous community centre venue, so it could have been something like a writing group. I’m sure there are people who write their own obituaries…

Installation view with 'Autobiography 2
 Autobiography 2 consists of views around Winnipeg’s natural history museum, with which I think you have links?

It’s called the Manitoba Museum, and used to be called Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. There’s definitely something uncanny about the place, and I’m very drawn to it and have gone there since I was a child. There’s also something very claustrophobic about it, the terrible musty smell, and the dioramas that are sometimes very realistic and other times very crude. I started working there as a volunteer when they were making a new diorama based on the parklands. For the exhibition, they collected a bunch of aspen trees, and soaked the bottoms in formaldehyde to preserve them, but then it turned all the leaves brown. So they hired volunteers to paint all the leaves green again, which is what I did that first summer. Then I got hired again the next year as a diorama artist assistant.

How did you make the video?

I filmed without any real intentions of using the footage. I’d just wanted to experiment with a new camera. I’ve re-organized that through the editing, so it becomes a vague depiction of evolution that starts with early forms of life, then dinosaurs, then animals and humans. The mannequins start out very realistic, and then devolve to become more crude, looking like stuffed nylons. I like that tension between being very convincing, but also very awkward. As a human I suppose I’m also part of the narrative of evolution, but so is everyone else. Again, just by giving it this title of “Autobiography”, it’s asking questions about the medium, and takes a very specific narrative of my relationship to this place and these dioramas, but also makes it more general by referencing the story of evolution.

There’s also a dose of humour in your work, though its themes can be dark…

Yes, humour has always been a way of changing the balance, offsetting what might have been off-putting.  And if you tell something as a joke, people question whether true or not – I’m not sure if that makes it more true or less, but I like that ambiguity. 

Clay Wig, glazed stoneware, 2014

There are various rather abject ceramic objects in the show: a glove, banana skins, wigs, burst balloons. Is that a new medium for you? 

 I’ve made ceramics for some years, but only just started to show them. They’re just rendered and fired, there’s no complicated moulding involved, which disappoints some people! They started from my having lots of wigs – everything on the show has some indirect connection to my life – when I liked how making them heavy changes their nature. I’m interested in making my practice figurative but deflated. I put them on this strange material called ‘Memory Foam’ which I thought would have been a good alternative title for the show. 

Clay Balloons, 2014

How did the ‘dead balloons’ come about, they’re unusual in being grey, as well as burst?

They’re more deflated narratives: I was looking for objects which had that organic, figurative feel about them but were also tactile. I couldn’t really imagine them being bright colours, so I went for the grey of raw clay. 

Clay Paper Bag, 2014

I particularly like the clay paper bag with eye holes.  It picks up on your humour in its dysfunctional ghostliness, and implies an estranged voice and hidden character...

It’s just too small to fit over the head, not that it would be very comfortable if it could! 

Wedding Day, pencil on paper, 185 by 260 cm, 2012

Drawing is a major part of your practice. Have you ever painted?

I’ve always drawn, but somehow painting has never worked out. My drawings try to make a narrative which isn’t about you but somehow you’re in it. Although I would consider most of my work to be figurative, I also feel as though it’s slowly become less figurative in the past couple of years.

What's the source for ‘Sexual Fitness’?

The image is from a book called Sexual Fitness, which is sort of a how to manual that combines yoga, massage, and sex but without looking like sex. More like a bad contemporary dance. But this was some sort of pose where the man was perched on top of the woman’s back. I feel the drawing has some of that tension between being figurative yet not, as well as a certain mood that’s added to by placing it in this strange back space that’s created by the video booth. It’s on the scale of a window, so you might be outside looking in.

Sexual Fitness, pencil on paper, 86 by 78 cm, 2011.

That hair has the disembodied feel of a wig, linking to the ceramics and to your wig collection. That is your own hair by the way?

It seems typical that there are bits you can understand in your work, and bits you can’t get a grasp of?

I like to read and research a lot but not necessarily make work directly from that, just let the meaning develop separately.

Freud defined the uncanny as the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar. Does that sound relevant?

I think it does relate to my practice, but again not something that I strive for. I’m always scanning for images, and I make a lot of drawings or sculptures that don’t work, that get edited out. The videos are the same, where I amalgamate a large amount of footage, and then cut down in an instinctive way, trying to cut off anything that seems unnecessary. I think what’s left is the uncanny, that the only images that work are the ones that have a certain quality, depicting an object or person that’s familiar, and that familiarity is somehow a bit repulsive, but we’re also drawn to it.  There again, my father was a psychologist and my mother was a psychiatric nurse…

‘The problem is inside the minds’ – does that quote sum it up?

Yes, I’d say that’s where all problems come from.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


The latest in my rolling top ten, together with previous choices which you can still see


Martine Poppe: Anatidaephobia @ Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, 533 Old York Road - Wandsworth

Martine Poppe at the private view
London-based Norwegian Martine Poppe disguises and half reveals  the object represented as the viewer moves around her paintings. Inspired during a Greek holiday by a list of imaginary phobias,  one being fear of ducks, Poppe has applied her method  to beach scenes in which she tracks between  the view as experienced, its photographic representation ( several complete with 'bloopers' such as her finger over the lens or her own shadow),  those photographs as the material for sculptures of boats,  and her painted version of the photographs. The results are satisfying both for the complexity of investigation of different levels of remove from reality, and for the what the press release calls  the 'signature soft  opalescent fracture' of the painted surfaces.
Analogical change #30 (Pool), 2014

Paul Nash: Watercolours 1920-46 @ Piano Nobile, 129 Portland Road - Holland Park

To 22 Nov:
Ruined Country: Old Battlefield, Vimy, near La Folle Wood , 1917-18

Paul Nash has no rival as an artist who captured both world wars, and there’s no doubt about what his art owes to the experience of conflict.  Yet the landscape, modernised and psychologised (wounded ground, erotic trees) is what drives Nash’s uniquely persuasive combination of English and modern, and what better way to show that than through the immediacy of his watercolours?  Piano Nobile has somehow gathered 35 of the highest quality, and commissioned David Boyd Hancock to write the exemplary catalogue. Quite possibly the best value show in London: £50,000 would secure you what I suspect is the passing fad of a David Ostrowski, or the perky ambiguities of ‘Comment on Leda’, 1935… 

Comment on Leda, 1935

Justin Adian: Strangers @ Skarstedt Gallery, 23 Old Bond Street - Central

To Nov 22:

Bellini, 2014  oil enamel and spray paint on ester foam and canvas

American artist Justin Adian’s  first UK exhibition is in line with current trends in deconstructing painting (yet again! – see, e.g. the 12 strong 'Beware Wet Paint!' at the ICA). His bulging, shaped, glossy canvases – often combines – go halfway to sculpture in their anti-traditional form. Add in his titles, though, and they turn out to have more figurative origins than you’d have thought,  pricking the seriousness with which, say, Mondrian and Malevich are regarded. ‘Bikini’, 'Baffle' and the creased but intact 'Never Break' are among the knock-about titles. The jokes are consistent with the material: the canvas is wrapped around the sort of foam in which paintings are normally transported – so they are in a way the packaging of art moved inside to masquerade as art.  


Celia Hempton: Chat Random @ Southard Reid, 7 Royalty Mews (off Dean St) - Soho

To 22 Nov:

Aldo and Jesi, Albania, 16th-august 2014
Celia Hempton has made a splash with a colourful and intimate paintings of those close to her. This new stream of work complements that by depicting 'live' 40 contrastingly anonymous subjects taken from her own interactions on the Internet site Chat Random. These reverse the usual power relationship between artist and model, as the model can terminate the process at any point. Sized to her computer screen, they are all male and often sexual – that’s the nature of the site - and she's forced to work fast, faced by the chance aspect of when she will have to consider the painting finished. That helps energise and vary the resulting combination of digital and painterly worlds.


Control Lapse @ Josh Lilley, 44-46 Riding House Street - Fitzrovia & Brand New Second Hand @ Vigo, 21 Dering St - Mayfair

To 10 Nov (Vigo) / 28 Nov (Lilley)

Kathleen Ryan's glazed ceramic and epoxy putty over steel stair rail

Control Lapse consists of cast objects, the title indicating that the nine artists chosen - largely American - allow processes to develop their own logic. The standard is high: this is the first London show for Scott Niall Macdonald's clinically surreal combinations of objects cast into white plaster purity. Ruairiadh O'Connell combines security railings with casts of net curtains caught up in them in a stand-off of privacies, linking neatly to Kathleen Ryan's ceramic cast over a railing, which takes on an angularly animated pose. An obvious missing artist is Nika Neelova... But no problem: her latest castings, silicon rubber versions  of the packaging from her own discarded sculptures, so refocusing onto her own practice her way of trapping the past in the present, are one of several highlights in the excellent 'Brand New Second Hand' at Vigo. I could also mention Matthew Barney's decidedly high end castings in zinc, gold and silver at Sadie Coles, which include examples of the 'water casting' process whereby molten metal is poured directly into water.

Nika Neelova   2011-2014 (the practice of conscious dying),   2014


What Marcel Duchamp Taught Me @ The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street - Central 

To 5 Nov:

Annie Kevans: Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, 2014 

The oldest commercial Gallery space in London commemorates 100 years since Duchamp's first  ready-made with a riot of a show: over 50 artists on all five floors provide thoughts on the great enigma as well as work inspired by him, plus you can take a knockabout guided headset tour of the building's history. It's uneven, but all entertaining, and among the many highlights are Juliette Losq's take on Étant donnés, Alistair Mackie's forest and cuttlebones, Alex Seton's marble Glory Hole and Cedric Chritsie's branding of  the stairwells. Among the artists' comments  I was struck by David Mach ('Duchamp didn't just move the goalposts, he obliterated the pitch') and David Shrigley quoting Bruce McLean: 'all the best artists piss about. Duchamp was brilliant at pissing about.'

Michael Craig Martin: Art and Design, 1917, 2013


John McAllister: stellar crush the sea @ Carl Freedman Gallery, 29 Charlotte Rd & Nogah Engler and Ori Gersht: On Reflection @ Mummery + Schnelle, 44A Charlotte Rd - Shoreditch

To 8 Nov -   / 29 Nov -

John McAllister: botanic ocean, 2014

There are four reasons to visit Charlotte Road now. On one side, John McAllister’s hotly-coloured paintings play with pattern, borders and pictures within pictures as he luxuriates in gardens like an American Bonnard (it's also worth checking the prints and collage downstairs). On the other, husband and wife Ori Gersht and Nogah Engler team up to turn buttterflies into Venetian masks in a wing-light adjunct to their separate practices - as well as showing her painterly fracturing of memory in landscape, his photographic fragmentation of apparent flowers in mirrors.

Nogah Engler & Ori Gersht: Virgin Parade 02, 2014

London is having a something of a Japanese moment:  Yoshimoto Nara at the Dairy and Shinro Ohtake at Parasol unit probably need little introduction, but there’s also Aiko Miyanaga at the newly opened Japanese-run White Rainbow, and,  at Berloni, the fruit of Carl Randall’s ten years of living in Tokyo.

Aiko Miyanaga - Strata: Origins @ White Rainbow, 47 Mortimer St – Fitzrovia
AIko Miyanaga’s interest in origins, in whether one can pin down the decisive moment at which one thing becomes another, feeds into some gently impressive work for White Rainbow’s inaugural show. Items - notably keys set to unlock the knowledge in resin books - are cast in the volatile compound of naphthalene, better known from moth balls, which evaporates and resolidifies according to conditions. That leads to frost the glass of enclosed items. In the back room is a subtle in which you can - no, really - hear the sound of ceramic pots.



Carl Randall: Shōzō / 肖像 @ Berloni, 63 Margaret St – Fitzrovia
To 15 Nov:

Tokyo Portrait 2, 2011
Carl Randall’s practice all stems from observation of people, but leads to very varied results from individual portraits (sometimes knowingly kitsch) to orientally-styled ink drawings to storyboard triptychs putting faces into their life contexts to the combination of many individuals into serried and meticulous multi-portraits which suggest isolation in the midst of overcrowding. Those last are Randall’s signature and strongest works, along with a grid of 68 instant hand-sized sketches by which he notes characters seen on the underground.



Blue Curry & Karen Tang at Vitrine, Bermondsey Square - Bermondsey

To 25 Oct (Curry) / 15 March 2015 (Tang) :

Blue Curry: details from 'Souvenir'

Vitrine runs parallel programmes in the gallery (Jonathan Bladock's lively orifice-themed soft sculptures at present) and - round the clock - on nearby Bermondsey Square. The latter currently features an inspired pairing which works especially well by night. From a distance it looks as if some sort of blobby monster has just emerged from a sea littered with distant ships. Get close and the monster is revealed as Karen Tang’s colourful firebreglass sci-fi meets Franz West sculpture. The sea is in an aquamarine window frontage, and each of the dozen  ships is actually four identical combs, the quartets alternating between those of one colour  (monocombs, I suppose) and those of many. A Brazilian sensibility, I’d say, informs Bahaman Blue Curry’s ‘Souvenir’. So if you’re in Bermondsey to see Tracey’s show (can I stop you?) be sure to pop along.

Karen Tang: Synapsid, 2014


Sigalit Landau: Knafeh @ Marlborough Contemporary, 6 Albemarle St - Central

The titular Knafeh refers to a video in which the preparation and division of the sweetmeat, which is equally popular in Palestine and Israel, takes on a mutating spin-painterly quality in what Landau calls a ‘composition in motion’ over 15 minutes. That cues us in to the surrounding works: photographs of games in which demarcations are made in the sand, Tapies-like ‘sand works’ which set that into a more directly artistic context, marble sculptures of breastfeeding pillows which reinforce the body references and allude to Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois and Sarah Lucas. Add some of Landau’s well-known stream of salt encrustations, and you have a resonant meditation on themes of nurture and conflict.

Azkelon, Freeze-Frame #2, 2011. Inkjet print


Korakrit Arunanondchai 2557 (Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2) (with Korapat Arunanondchai) @ Carlos Ishikawa, Unit 4, 88 Mile End Road – Whitechapel - also in 'Beware Wet Paint; at the ICA to 16 Nov

The summary here might be interesting exhibition, great chairs! The show combines mannequins, cushions and video which both form Part 3 (2557 is the year 2014 in the Buddhist Calendar) of an ongoing account of New York based Bangkok born Korakrit Arunanondchai’s life and performances, and lead to the paintings shown. The whole merge Thai and Western media and art: a kitschy temple, burnt denim, body painting inspired by a TV game show, and Manchester United all play. The paintings are just one aspect, but striking enough in themselves that Gregor Muir has included one in the ICA’s punchy survey of current trends. All the same, visitors may remember the show mainly for the invitation to view it from much the most pleasurable massage chairs I have encountered.



Paradigm Store @ HS Projects, 5 Howick Place – Victoria and Kendell Geers: Crossing the Line @ Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington Street - Central

To 5 Nov: by appointment via / 4 Oct

Kendell Geers: Monument to the F-Word, 2010

If you saw the seven floors of HS Projects' Interchange Junctions in the as-yet-unlet areas of this sparkling new office block, you might ask why only five floors? But of course, this seventeen artist examination of the interface between design and society is still huge. The highlights include and a face-off between Pilar Corrias (Elizabeth Neel, Tobias Rehberger, Ulla von Brandenburg) and Stephen Friedman (Beatrice Milhazes, Claire Barclay, David Shrigley, Kendell Geers). When the Belgian-based Africaans artist makes political work, it carries an authentic backstory, as he left his native South Africa when faced with spending six years in gaol for treasonable actions against apartheid.  Here and in Geers’ concurrent solo show, that gives extra heft to his use of ideologically-charged readymade materials (such as razor wire), language (such as the four letter word, the negative shapes from which are insinuated into his Monuments to the F-Word) and his striking new use of plaster soaked in rust-saturated water to make skulls in which his own handmarks are prominent, as if clawing at death.

Kendel Geers: Kaput Mortuum XXXII, 2012

Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America @ the Saatchi Gallery - Sloan Square

To 2 Nov:

Rafael Gómezbarros:  'Casa Tomada' (Seized House)

There are plenty of big shows which it hardly seems necessary to mention: such brilliance as  Matisse at the Tate Modern; Veronese, all theatre and colour at the National Gallery, any lack of depth well-aligned to modern tastes – or at any rate to mine; Phyllida Barlow in ramshackle glory at Tate Britain; and Giuseppe Penone at Gagosian. And the less convincing: Schnabel at The Dairy, for example, or Herman Bas's two sites for Victoria Miro. Then there are mixtures like Chris Marker at the Whitechapel, and Saatchi’s new ragbag of South America and Africa… if you’ve never been to the excellent Jack Bell Gallery, there’s a crash course here as three rooms are given over entirely to expanded versions of four of the African explorer’s lively shows. Still, Pangaea’s signature room is its first: Rafael Gómezbarros' 440 giant ants swarm the walls, each made of two cast human skulls with branches for legs, and held together by dirty bandaging. 

 Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries