Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Blink UnBlink at Liverpool Biennial and reflecting on 2010

Exhibiting in the Liverpool Biennial 2010 was a really exciting event for me this year.

Blink UnBlink was the name that Olwen Holland and I gave to our two person show at The International Gallery (Slater Street). Blink UnBlink was part of S.Q.U.A.T. Liverpool and was curated by Gregory Scott Gurner and Asher Remy Toledo.

When Olwen and I first saw the gallery we both fell in love with the character of the building. We both loved its 'worn by time' look. You can’t rush that sort of scruffy floor, nor can you speed-grow a plant through the ceiling!

And like the previous exhibiting artists we decided to make a feature of our little green tendril.

View looking up under Tall Legs
Our lovely floor

Using normal white plinths just didn't fit with this space. We found the perfect rusted metal table to present 'Hyacinth' on. Gregory was pleased that we managed to make use of items within the building. This is totally in keeping with the ethos of S.Q.U.A.T. and The Art Organisation.
'Precious'. One of the new beings made for this show. I really enjoyed making 'Precious', especially as rather than feeling precious I was feeling playful while making her.

Venues at the Liverpool Biennial come in all shapes and sizes. This was Raymond Pettibon's venue. At night it looked like a padlocked garage and by day it looked like a garage!

I recently read Richard Branson’s Blog.

He has answered 60 questions in celebration of his 60th birthday.

One question was, What three things does he feel have been most important to his success? His answer was, “People...people...and people....”

Yes Mr Branson and I have something in common... a love and enthusiasm for people.

'Fin' (AKA Giovanni) presented on two vintage instrument boxes. I have Richard Bett (very talented silversmith and metal sculptor) to thank for these boxes.

But that is another story.....

The Liverpool Biennial attracts visitors from all over the world and while our show was on Olwen and I met all sorts of people. We had curators from Poland, Canada, Ireland and various UK galleries visiting. We had students not only from UK BA and MA courses but also students from Ireland, Holland and Greece (that we know of).

Some of my most enthusiastic visitors were Daniel Ernst, Jonathan van Sloten and Catinka Kersten who are studying at Hanze University Groningen

I was really excited when Daniel pulled out his vintage 3D camera.

and here is the image that he took. Dig out your 3D glasses to get the full impact. Daniel's blog is an exciting world of fantasy and reveals a very healthily imagination!

David Kousemaker and Tim Olden designers from Blendid came to our opening event.

David’s comment, “I like when art tickles you a bit”, really stuck in my mind.

I love Blendid's interactive lighting works and so you never know, one day we could possibly work on a project together.

It’s about people and connections; that’s what makes my world go around.

Being in Liverpool during the Biennial there was a wonderful feeling of camaraderie.

It was lovely that some people decided to pop in to visit us several times over the weeks. Mark the ancient languages expert, Terry Wafer who has since been sharing his own photographs with me, Simon who told me tales of working at the Beatles Experience, Stuart from Feeling Listless. (He also wrote a piece about Blink UnBlink) to name just a few.

The International Gallery is in a great location just around the corner from FACT and also only spitting distance from the DO HO SUH public art piece ( Bridging Home).

Many visitors were passing on their way up to the Anglican cathedral. I loved the video piece (Grand Organ) by Danica Dakic. Definitely my favourite of the Biennial and I was so glad that I had heard her speak about her work when I went to the Touched Conference in September.

While in the gallery I read lots of online reviews of the other shows and so every day before The International Gallery opened I visited other shows; both ones in the main Biennial and also others which were in the Independents Programme.

Art Liverpool is a fantastic website and there was lots of publicity for our show.

It was great to be able to get feedback directly from visitors.

And even now, months later, I am hearing from people who visited Blink UnBlink. As with so much in the art world there is often a delay between action and result. Often the things that we do seem to lie dormant for even years before bearing fruit!

There were also visitors that I didn’t actually meet in the flesh but who I made contact with purely as a result of the show. Jonathan Baldock showed at the Royal Standard. I am definitely intrigued by and interested in his work.

While in lIverpool I visited the Ceri Hand Gallery. I did this especially as she now represents the Juneau Projects and I’m always keen to see what they are up to. I loved the gallery but didn’t meet Ceri until a few weeks later when she spoke at one of the Art of Ideas talks.

So what lessons have I learnt from this most recent phase?

Yes people are still very much part of my practice. They energise me, make me feel connected and inspire me.

The work that I make is about relationships, personalities and how we relate to each other.

Matt Price once described my work as revealing a childlike enthusiasm.

I am also often described as having a lot of energy and optimism.

Celebrating at the end of the show. Always best done with family and friends.

In the dark winter months I often feel disgruntled. During the winter I just want to hibernate. I want to stay warm and if I had a cave I’d probably be asleep in it.

So, how the best use of this time? Read lots of novels and make my people contact that way? Yes that sounds like an exceedingly positive use of my time!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Liverpool Biennial 2010 & the Power of Chickens in Art

The Liverpool Biennial is getting a lot of attention these days. Started in 1998 by James Moores, who now runs the A Foundation, it now attracts over a million visitors. This is the 7th Biennial.
I first visited in 2002. The piece that I remember most from that year was then was Tatsurou Bashi's Villa Victoria (the one room hotel built around a bronze satue of Queen Victoria). I also visited in 2008 and the most memorable piece for me that year was was Manfredi Beninati’s ‘To Think Of Something’. I wrote about the experience (and later discovered that it was included on Beninati's Wikapedia page).
It was to be the start of my octopus style of writing with posts full of links and connections. I feel that each post now does seem to be along those lines and maybe it helps to illustrate just where I get my inspiration from… everywhere!
I do know that writing this blog has definitely helped to clarify my thoughts … especially to me.
Sometimes it is only after making a piece that I can completely understand all that I was trying to say.

So now to 2010 and here I am exhibiting in the Liverpool Biennial myself. Blink UnBlink is my joint show with Olwen Holland. More exhibition images to follow soon.

I went to Liverpool for the Touched Conference which took place on the opening weekend of the Biennial. Later that evening I found myself looking through the windows of 102 Seel Street (just around the corner from The International Gallery where Blink UnBlink is now showing).

Here in the left window is The Last Supper by Francis Ewe (AKA as Gregory Scott Gurner). I had already seen the piece when I first went to meet Gregory at The International Gallery earlier this year. For the period of the biennial Gregory has installed the photograph of his re-enactment of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (with himself as Jesus) in the window of his home, 102 Seel Street.

It was raining, I walked across the road. I could hear sounds … they were coming from speakers positioned outside the front door. I looked into the window. Yes The Last Supper; there jewel like in its splendid ornate frame. I noticed the straw on the floor….and money… (US dollars?) scattered across the floor. (Actually I found out later that the money is Chinese Hell Money.) I realised that there was something in the adjacent window; a screen, a ripped screen. And projected onto it was a film documenting the making of The Last Supper. So this explained the soundtrack. What I could hear while standing in the rain outside Gregory’s window was the soundtrack of the making of this photograph.

Well this was all pretty good; I love theatrical and I love the unexpected. Yes even the punters in the Irish pub across the road were perfectly okay, smoking out in the rain and being subjected to a soundtrack of shuffling of boxes, a bit of music and some back ground chat. It is the Liverpool Biennial and really everyone in Liverpool, art lover or not, is up for it!

But suddenly I noticed that in amongst the straw and the money there was a hen, a real live hen!

'Fin' had only just been finished a couple of days before we set up the show and so I hadn’t had much time to ‘live’ with him at home. Had I really realised what I had made? I had worked intuitively with materials that I love; aged copper, bits of vintage machinery, plastic vinyl fabric, feathers and shepherd castors.

A week or so after seeing Francis Ewe's The Last Supper (with chickens) I realised that there was a link. I remembered that a piece that I made while in second year had strong similarities to Fin.

BUT better still when I made it I had also photographed it amongst some chickens on my friend’s farm!

Did they enhance the piece or did they help to suggest that rather than being just an object it could be something much more. A connection to another place ... a place that I have now named Frillip Moolog?

I love surprises and the chickens in the window at 102 Seel Street didn't just surprise me they have made me think even more about how I present my work.

A friend commented on my work in Blink UnBlink… she said … it’s about a fantasy world; a world to escape to, where you can be anyone and anything.
Am I that easy to read?
This is my brother and I. My real life in 1966.

And here is a fantasy version of my life.

Do I see Francis Ewe’s The Last Supper in a different light now that I have seen it with straw, Chinese Hell Money and chickens? Yes I think that the presentation definitely added to his photographic piece.
For Blink UnBlink I have shown my short film Trolley Happenings for the first time.
By presenting it on a small screen set within a red velvet tube (complete with heavy fringing) I have ramped up the theatrical. My love of performance, memories of cinemas in the 1970’s, Punch and Judy, and the Magic Roundabout is very definitely evident.

I am pleased that it has been described as having Jan Svankmajeresque qualities and the favourable comments from visitors to Blink UnBlink is encouraging me to plan future films… with chickens?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Touched conference enhances experience of Extraordinary Measures at Belsay House

Belsay Hall Photographed in the Spring . Image from English Heritage Guidebook.

As an artist I am looking, living, imagining, experiencing and making. These are all aspects of my work but I never think of any of it as work. It’s just my life, it’s what I do.

This summer was an exceptionally busy one but I am so glad that despite being busy I was able to visit Extraordinary Measures at Belsay Hall (near Newcastle on Tyne).

Last year I had some mentoring sessions with Freddie Robins. We talked about the difficulties of working in textiles but still wanting to make site specific work to be sited outdoors.

Freddie is one of the artists who was selected to exhibit in this year’s exhibition at Belsay Hall. Judith King curated this show and it features some very big names in the contemporary art world. This is the 6th year that Belsay Hall has hosted a summer long contemporary art exhibition and on the strength of Extraordinary Measures I will make it a must to return for future shows there.

Belsay Hall was built by Sir Charles Monck (started in 1807and completed in 1871). He was obsessed by Greek architecture and owned every book published on the subject. The house is built from stone quarried just a ‘stone’s throw’ away and the most wonderful l thing about the house is that as a result of Sir Charles Monck’s passion/obsession it is actually built to very specific measurements and using the beautiful proportions of Greek architecture. While on his two year honeymoon (in Greece) Sir Charles had sketched and measured many Greek buildings and monuments.

The Temple of Theseus in Athens (449-411BC) is said to be the direct inspiration for the columns on the entrance front of the Hall. The book cases in the library were even taken from measurements of another Greek building the Erechtheion (421-405BC) also in Athens. Sir Charles was meticulous and all the dimensions, proportions and masonry detail were calculated to three decimal places. It is also said that as a direct result of Sir Charles’s exacting standards the craftsmen working on the building of the house actually raised the standard of craftsmanship (particularly stonemasonry) in the North of England.

Belsay Hall has been in the care of English heritage for 25 years now and when it came into their care it was with the proviso that it would be open to the public but shown in an unfurnished state. This is the perfect way to appreciate the proportions and also the quality of craftsmanship in the building of this unique Greek Revival style building.

It is also a perfect back drop for contemporary art. It is an amazing non-gallery setting.

Since 1996 there have been 6 exhibitions but for this most recent one I feel that Curator Judith King has done an incredible job; not only in selecting the artists for Extraordinary Measures but also for encouraging them to make works which are displayed in such a variety of spaces at Belsay.

Artworks have been sited in the Hall, the quarry gardens, the castle and even the dog kennels.

Several Ron Mueck sculptures are installed within the hall. I was particularly struck by Wild Man which is placed in the library. Here's an image of the library as it was when photographed for Country Life magazine in 1940.

and now what a difference. Here the library is inhabited by Ron Mueck’s ‘Wild Man’.

This image from Denise at The Swelle Life blog.

I was glad to have the chance to watch the video about Ron Mueck and his working methods. It was really illuminating.

Slinkachu is an artist who I had always associated with working in urban spaces. I think he rose to the challenge really well. A fag end monolith?

It was a drizzly damp day but wow! a really perfect one to experience the atmospheric delights of Belsay Quarry Gardens. I think the quarry gardens really have to be experienced to be appreciated but hopefully the following photos will give you a feel for it.

We walked past the croquet lawn (which immediately set off Queen of Hearts images in my brain). We passed this strangely trimmed bush. A strange beast which might pounce at any second?
But no this is Belsay House in Northumberland and not the Isle of Wight where I spotted this little treasure!
I found Tessa Farmer's mutated grey squirrels all a bit too nasty for my taste. But interesting to see how after months in the weather the cases had cobwebs and condensation in them making the scenes even more sinister.

Freddie Robins found a dark little cave where she installed her exquisite little knitted robins for 'Woodland Unhappy Families'. They were portraying the Greek myth of Theseus and Ariadne.

There is a sense of loss on several levels: The loss of Ariadne’s life as she sacrificed it to save Theseus, the mourning for the seemingly more uncomplicated 1950’s where families sat together in cosy living rooms playing board games together and even the loss of several inches of red knitted robin’s breast.

We came across Ciaran Treanor’s 'Wild Horses' on this grassy area at the back of Belsay Castle and by the dog kennels.

Back at the beginning of this exhibition there were spring bulbs in bloom, tulips and daffodils sprouting around the horses' hooves. I like seeing the journey through the seasons since the show’s opening in the spring of this year but I think that the 'Wild Horses' seems much more at home in this long late summer grass. Another thought on site specific work and how seasons and time affect not only the art but also the site… .

And inside the castle (where the family lived before the hall was built)…this is where the ‘Scalesdale’ project is exhibited. This is a piece by local architects practice MGA and modelmaker Pete Young and which has grown and evolved over the months of the exhibition. The way that the work has grown has been affected by decisions made by visitors. This work is specifically to show how our environments are moulded depending on our choices about power sources, amenities and roads etc.

Upstairs in the Great Chamber is the wonderful spectacle of Matt Collishaw’s ‘The Garden of Unearthly Delights’. It is amazing and has to be seen to be believed. Photographs were not allowed but here’s another from Denise
at The Swelle Life blog.

This absolutely amazing zoetrope is a thing that you need to spend time with and watch mesmerised for minute after minute. I would love to know more about how it was made and how much, if any, of the hands on making that Matt Collishaw did?

The concept is genius but the execution is just as impressive in my opinion. I do know that he has already sold it to his friend Damien Hurst for £140, 000.

For me Mariele Neudecker’s contribution to Extraordinary Measures completely stole the show.
We encountered her piece, ‘From Here to There is Not That Far’ in the quarry gardens.
Again, although I had seen an image of the piece nothing can really prepare you for that physical encounter. It is a piece of art that I am still experiencing now and I expect that it is something that I will continue to re-experience in my memory for months… even years to come.

As we walked towards the glass window we realised there was something that wasn’t quite right; the glass, although transparent, is also slightly mirrored and it also reflects you
back slightly smaller than you would expect.

At first you are so wowed by the size of this huge window; so taken by the perfect oddness of its setting in between two high rock ledges. But then once you start to notice your reflection it is very much about how you are interacting with the art. I feel that this is a perfect example of a piece of art touching all the senses.
I never actually touched the glass with my hands but I still feel completely touched by the experience.

Touched is the title of the Liverpool Biennial 2010. I attended the Touched conference last Saturday. Much was said about Touch, how art touches, and all the other senses that we draw on when we experience the sense of touch.

So seeing this piece, walking through it, walking round it, feeling how it related to the space in the Quarry Garden these all were key ingredients of my experience of Touch….really perfect. Thank you Mariele Neudecker.

Extraordinary Measures is an exhibition which is mainly about scale. Mariele Neudecker’s is the most monumental in size and Freddie Robins’ is on a much smaller scale but proves how much small works are just as able to touch on so many levels.

I realise now, looking back at the images of Freddie Robins’ ‘Woodland Unhappy Families’ that only someone who has had the experience of unravelling a piece of knitting will understand the FEEL… both physical and emotional… of the strange rippling sensation felt through the yarn as the stitches are unravelled.

Thanks to Steven Connor’s wonderful, insightful and illuminating talk at the Touched conference I am now experiencing Freddie’s piece on a much deeper level….

Feeling through, my own physical knowledge and memories of touch I am able to feel touched by ‘Unhappy Woodland Families’ on a level that is made possible by my own personal connections that I have made between the physical feeling of unravelling knitting and the emotional feeling of loss that I have associated with it.

Extraordinary Measures continues at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens until Saturday 25th September. Get there by 3pm on Saturday and have three wonderfully life enhancing hours

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Frillip Moolog beings take up residence in the Erasmus Darwin House

How often do you get asked if you would like to exhibit in your home town?

Inventions of the Mind is just that; an exhibition of my work in my hometown of Lichfield. But even better, it is in the unique 18th Century setting of the Erasmus Darwin House.

This is a museum that I have long had an affinity for. Infact back in 2005 (as a fantasy project) I planned an exhibition in this venue. The works included were ‘Beast’ an early piece by Laura Ford, my all time favourite chair piece by Jurgen Bey and one of Dorothy Cross’s ‘Udder’ pieces.

"Inventions of the Mind is an exhibition which attempts to form a bridge between the ideas of contemporary artist Kirsty E. Smith, and the life and work of one of Britain's most important historical thinkers, Erasmus Darwin, linchpin of The Lunar Society."

Anneka French

I have always been interested in history and definitely in manufacturing. Living close to Birmingham, a city that was once at the heart of British manufacturing industry, it is no surprise that I am a fan of the Lunar Men and have read Jenny Uglow’s excellent, book The Lunar Men from cover to cover. I love their sense of adventure and the way that these men wanted to discover so much, about the world around them and also to invent machines that would change our lives ... completely.

The Erasmus Darwin House is within the Cathedral Close in Lichfield. The house has a Georgian front but in actual fact parts of the house date back to the 13th Century.

So how to select which of my Frillip Moolog beings to include in the show and also which ones would look best within these rooms decorated with 18th century artefacts and furnishings?

I started by doing some Photoshopped images to visialise how pieces might look. I also took advice from curator and writer Anneka French. And of course I had to work within the constraints of the museum. It is a busy venue with museum business, business meetings, weddings and private functions.

Here Ziggy looks like he might have just slithered out of the chimney.
I like the idea of suggested movement in my work.

However shown on this plinth there is a more obvious link to the anatomy of the plaster arm on the wall. Erasmus Darwin did autopsies (which were open to the public) in the cellar of the house.

In 2007 I went down into the cellars of the house.
Some Frillip Moolog ‘beings’ exhibited down there? … that would be quite an atmosphere.
I think there are still some blood stains on these brick benches. Remnants from a previous use.
Ziggy has been very popular with the children who have visited the house especially.
Is it the sparkly peach dance fabric that he’s made from or simply his tactile tentacles that they are attracted to?

Madeleine is so stately and welcoming at the end of the hall. The lady of the house.

Although I made Stan to be suspended, by good fortune, he is also able to balance upright.
I was happy with the way that his angles seemed to echo the lines and angles of the model of Erasmus’ Horizontal Windmill.
So I was absolutely delighted when I saw this drawing projected onto the wall. It makes some perfect visual connections.

Walking up the oak staircase you get all round views of Russell. The light in the stairwell is especially lovely. The Georgians knew how to use colours to maximise the light in their homes.
I have run up and down these ancient oak stairs quite a few times recently as I have been facilitating outreach workshops with several community groups (and the room we have been working in is upstairs).

One of my favourite sessions has been the sculpture sessions for children.

I understand just how Ben is feeling here. That look of excitement as the thought pops into your head, “What have I made?”

During the making process I have moments like this.

Sometimes you go into the studio and the piece you're working on is a surprise... even to yourself!

I made Colin especially for Inventions of the Mind.

I knew that I wanted to use the library in the museum. There are restrictions when you are exhibiting your work in a museum where there are lots of visitors; visitors who have come primarily to find out more about Erasmus Darwin so you cannot hinder their experience.

My intention is to enhance their experience.

Anneka French’s exhibition text clarifies the similarities that I have drawn between Erasmus Darwin’s approach to his inventions and the way that I take artistic inspiration from almost any area of life. For example in the18th Century there was no strict division between the natural sciences and engineering.

Colin is an interesting mixture of materials. These include a piece of from an old milking machine. I love that zinc plated finish, and I also love the juxtaposition of cheap plastic drain pipe (inside his body) with the luxury feathers of the Glengarry Hackles from Jaffe et Fils.

BUT the moment was made perfect as I was placing Colin on top of the book case.
In the same room there is an educational video with presenter Adam Hart-Davis.
I suddenly noticed that he was demonstrating Erasmus Darwin’s design for a speaking machine. The model that they had made to illustrate how it worked was made from the very same type of plastic drain pipe!

Coincidence, synchronicity? Or as Andrew Carey suggested possibly a more interesting take on this is to see it in terms of one of James Gibson’s affordances.

James J. Gibson (1904– 1979) was an American psychologist who is considered one of the most important 20th century psychologists in the field of visual perception
He coined the term '
affordance', which refers to the opportunities for action provided by a particular object or environment. This concept has been extremely influential in the field of design and ergonomics.

Or in Anneka French's words
"Her sculptures are vessels which hold and suggest many ideas simultaneously. They are saturated with history and with narrative, in both a personal and more general sense."

Inventions of the Mind
- Erasmus Darwin House, Beacon Street, Lichfield, WS13 7AD
- 31st July - 23rd Aug 2010
- Tuesday to Sunday: 11 to 5pm last admission 4.15pm

- Admission: £3.00 adult, £2.00 ConcessionsChildren £1.00, Family £6.00

The work produced in the outreach sessions will be part of the 52 Weeks of Art community exhibition at The Erasmus Darwin House on 21st August 2010.

The exhibition and workshops have been made possible thanks to funding from Tesco PLC.