I'm no great fan of Christmas (wouldn't once every two years be enough?) but here all the same is a fairly arbitrary box of not entirely festive goodies for the festive season: a candle, cards, a film, a show with gifts, a Tate selection, a trip, a book... and my 'Best of 2012' retrospective selection.
Giorgio Sadotti: ‘THIS CAN’ @ Studio 1.1, 57a Redchurch St
The arch-mischievous Giorgio Sadotti has brought darkness to the evening front of studio1.1: the plug sockets trail leads, but all you can see by is a flame flickering from the floor. Sadotti has – perhaps in a parody of nostalgia for yuletides past? - reinstated a demolished dividing wall, the better to hide what the leads lead to: the electric lights which normally light the gallery have been moved, simply by extending the electrical wires which normally power them, to form a battery aimed at the wall of the newly recreated back room. Thus is the true light of the season hidden and - apart from lighting a magazine work featuring Amy Winehouse (and maybe that's a big 'apart from') - wasted…
CARDS AT CHRISTMAS
A Pack of Cards Designed by William Nicholson
I’m reasonably aware of Ben’s Dad (1872-1949), but didn’t realise he’d made a fascinating and lively set of high value playing cards at the turn of the 20th century. A recently discovered full set of designs (they never reached commercial production) at Ben Elwes Fine Art was among the many splendid discoveries to be made in the limelight-seizing Frieze Masters. They’re based on historical characters themed around the English Reformation: thus the queens include Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots; while the conspiratorial knaves are Colonel Thomas Blood, Guy Fawkes, Mary’s supposed lover David Rizzio and Titus Oates.
Karla Black: ‘Untitled’ Edition for Studio Voltaire, 2011
This rather small (5 x 3 inches unfolded) but fairly big (150) series of slightly different card sculptures by Karla Black capture the essence of her barely-there practice for a bargain £100. Or should that be: who’d stump up £100 for a scrap of sugar paper finger-smeared with body paint, primary school style? I reckon it’s that tension which dynamises Black’s work, so putting me in the first camp...
Tereza Buskova: ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’
The London-based Czech Tereza Buskova has previously made four short films presenting living tableaux in which traditional Bohemian rituals are seamlessly reinvented as contemporary art. They’re wordless and mysterious, their heady atmosphere heightened by Bela Emerson's haunting, cello-heavy soundtracks. The four season cycle gave us her take on ‘Wedding Rituals’ (2007), which seem more foreboding than celebratory; the logical follow-up of a ‘Forgotten Marriage’ (2008); ‘Spring Equinox’ (2009), her version of Easter rituals in the oldest village in Moravia; and ‘Masopust’ (2010), in which villagers deal with their cold winter through a combination of drink, meat, processions, brass bands and grotesque behaviour.
Buskova’s new nine minute film, ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’ (2012) is set in the northern Czech village in which she spent much of her teens. It invents an annual ‘baking ritual’, symbolising sisterhood, fertility and motherhood, for the women of Doubice, who include the artist’s mother. The focus is on wheat, which, as Buskova says, ‘has pervaded European culture for as long as the folk traditions that I am typically drawn to’. The combination of female labour and a logic of absurdity, incidentally, reminded me of another favourite of mine: Mika Rottenberg.
The central action is the baking of shaped breads which are placed on the naked, supine body of the striking Zoë Simon – a frequent collaborator of Buskova, who works in an inclusive manner to bring together the contributions of performers, composer and fellow-artists. The baked woman is carried on the shoulders of the baking women, echoing a funeral procession just as her body, once she is laid down, could be a corpse. Yet the film is uplifting, not dark. Typically of Buskova, it contains striking images apart from that main ceremonial stream, notably a figure dressed entirely in the paradoxical combination of flowers and boxing gloves (made by Matthew Cowan), and a concluding passage in which the theme of shaped bread on the body becomes the basis for an all-over suit, in which the dead woman appears to rise again and present a village woman with risen bread.
Buskova’s earlier films assert the resilience of local cultures – these rituals have seen off communism – and ask two interesting questions. First, what role should traditions play in the modern world? Best, Buskova implies, not to let them ossify in conservation, but to change them to suit the present. Second, what is the boundary between life and art? The melding of the two shows that the division is not such a simple one, and speaks for the art of living.
Those questions continue to be activated by ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’, but another strand is added by the interesting point that cereal produces a uniformity of landscape and associated means of production which might easily come across as negative in the context of valuing diversity. But a monoculture is also a ground for unity, and here specifically for bonds between women.
In finding positives in monoculture while celebrating regionalism, the film raises a very broad question: what’s the right balance between local variety – whether purely contemporary or historically preserved – and the uniformity of scale which may bring efficiency, reliability and more widely-based recognition? It’s the same question as lies behind: How many cottages should be demolished to make way for a high speed railway line? Should Starbucks be given planning permission to move into a market town? How much effort should we put into preserving minority languages?
Thus Buskova gives us the fun of the fair, the intrepid anthropologist’s televised adventures and the quick grab of a pop video – all with interesting questions for us to ponder.
CHISTMAS GIFT SHOW
|Incorrectly manufactured object, designed and fabricated by factory worker Mr King at Wenzhou Yidao Optical Co., Ltd., Wenzhou, China. 2012. Photo Jonathan Minster|
Jeremy Hutchison: ERRATUM @ Paradise Row, 74a Newman St - Fitzrovia
To 21 Dec - http://www.erratum.co is a website complete with associated campaign
Jeremy Hutchison spent five years writing adverts for Coca-Cola, so this luxury shop spotlighting a few select goods speaks the language of sales fluently, including diagrams to link what we see to the theory. But things are not what they seem: the cabinets are versions of Haim Steinbach’s iconic means of presenting readymade items, an art tradition which Hutchison tweaks sharply, as the items are made at his request to be deliberately dysfunctional. The cheese graters have no holes; tennis racquets are double-headed; a violin has bow hair for strings, leaving one to suppose that a stringed bow will be designed to play it; and the sunglasses only look like a plausible design until you wonder how you’d wear them. On the other hand, hanging slatted rubber-curtain-like sculptures which might fit into several artists’ practices really are dividers from the factory floor through which forklift trucks more often push.
Buy something, then, as a tribute to the anonymous assembly line workers who became designers of a newly democratised type in their choice of which error to make; as a gift to epitomise the futility of creating desires merely to fulfil them; or just browse for fun and the provocation of thought. I guess this recommendation is a spoiler for deception, but Hutchison told me that several casual passers by have taken ‘Erratum’ for a straight shop (of course, it’s another layer that it is a shop of sorts). His favourite question, though, is from a visitor who – having been to previous shows – asked: ‘Didn’t this use to be an art gallery?’
CHRISTMAS AT THE TATES
I wonder if London gets too complacent about having the Tate - commonly reckoned to lie behind the boom as a result of which there's so much else to see (though not so much that's open at Christmas). So here's an appreciation of some of what's there now, when many other galleries are closed...
|Daido Moriyama - from 'Another Country in New York'|
William Klein + Daido Moriyama - Tate Modern
To 20 Jan
|Web Ladder, 2010|
|Installation view of Jutta Koether room|
Jutta Koether in 'A Bigger Splash' - Tate Modern
To 1 April
An eccentric show, yoking all sorts of stuff together at some remove from its apparent theme of performance through painting… but no matter: I was pleased to come across two rooms in which paintings interact with their surrounding spaces and people. Jutta Koether, once in Martin Kippenberger’s circle, takes forward his seriously unserious approach to painting through an all-over jungle of sketchy explorations, seen here in a large centrally-suspended work which becomes the subject of a sort of viewers’ diary which tuns into the reason for the painting. There are also ‘Wild Garlands’: deliciously glossy-dark plank-fetishes which become the unlikely props in a dance collaboration with Ei Arakawa. That then bleeds into a room of Ei’s winningly sociable, cheerfully ritualistic performances with other painters’ works.
|Terror. Virtue - bronze medal, 1984|
Ian Hamilton Finlay - Tate Britain
To 17 Feb
I don't much care for the installation of Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) in the Duveen Gallery, but there's no doubting his posthumous influence, and the work shown gives a good sample of how language and history directly inhabits his world. It includes plenty of pointed 'visual rhymes' such the flute / machine gun, fountain / warship and grove / tank - as well as this rhyme between classical columns and guillotine. The 'terror' of state oppression relates specifically to the actions of Strathclyde Council in the 'First Battle of Little Sparta', fought over a refusal to treat Hamilton's garden as non-commercial for rating purposes.
|Jaring Lokhorst: Lush|
|Bram Bogart installation view|
|At the Crosswalk VIII, 2011|
Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography
Black dog publishing 2012, £39.95 - linked to show at Vancouver Art Gallery with an impressive site at projects.vanartgallery.bc.ca/wallace/about-the-exhibition
This weighty survey provides a very thorough treatment of a photographer and teacher – Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall were among his students – who influenced the emergence of a distinctive conceptual approach to photography in 1970’s Vancouver. Ian Wallace isn’t terribly well-known in Europe but here he gets 300 illustrations, an overview, a chronology and six thematic chapters each with two substantial articles: one broad and one work-specific; one with Wallace’s own words, one by another writer. Is he worthy of such sustained attention?
Wallace is certainly a cogent and persistent thinker and researcher, feeding the literary and philosophical roots of a practice in which Mallarmé, Barthes and Adorno loom large. He began with monochrome paintings and documentary-style (but staged) photography. Those strands come together in his most characteristic work, which uses painted canvas as a literal and metaphorical ground for photographs. Wallace also ranges into cinema, performance, language and institutional contexts to provide a wider intersectional practice than this book’s title suggests. Furthermore, he proposes that three locations, which can be seen as making up ‘the architecture of the economy’, can be identified with the recurring themes in his work: the studio, being the private place of production; the museum, being the public space of presentation of the work; and the street, being the scene of public politics. That then provides an effective means of structuring this book.
|Untitled (Crossing the Street II), 1989|
However, as Wallace himself recognises, the resulting images aren’t always terribly interesting in themselves: ‘by depicting the most banal events of everyday life, such as people crossing the street, I realised I would probably limit the audience for my work’. That said, the point at which pedestrians are ready to cross is both characteristic of interactions in a city and a reference to the inevitability of change and the need to move on in life. Wallace also mentions the parallel between asphalt of the road and his earlier monochrome paintings. Add the acknowledgement of the economic and political forces beyond our control, and the richness of the subject is apparent, despite initial appearances. Is there, then, a suggestion that art might offer some sort of redemption? Perhaps, in an ambiguous way: as Jeff Derksen puts it in his focus piece ‘Wallace's cityscapes are overwhelmed by the spatial divisions of capitalism (work and leisure, public and private)’ and, though they also draw attention to ‘the banality of the moment’, there is in the conception of these works ‘a beautiful oscillation between the limits of urban space/urban experience and the limits of art’.
UK: Public Galleries
UK: Commercial / Private
Rest of the World (obviously fairly arbitrary, depending where I happened to go)
|Sarah Anne Johnson|